Monday, December 12, 2011
Book Review: The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle (Scribner) by Jeannette Walls is an extraordinary book about a dysfunctional yet captivating family. Captivating because despite the flaws these parents have, they have managed to raise children with spunk, imagination, and determination. This memoir, The Glass Castle, is named after the home Jeannette Walls’ father promised to build for his family.
Rex and Rose Mary Walls have four children. Life in the beginning was fun–Jeannette who narrates this memoir, loves living in the Southwest and living a fun, nomadic life. Rex is a brilliant man and teaches his children physics, geology, and from him they learn to embrace life and to use their imagination. Rex’s drinking problem accelerates as the story progresses, but from their father the children learn many of life’s truths.
Rose Mary prefers to spend her time painting and writing. She resents having to cook a meal or do housework when she could be spending time at her easel. Her children cook for themselves, when there’s food on hand. Meals could be nothing but popcorn three days in a row. Jeannette learns early in life that “to do the skedaddle” means when the family can’t pay their bills, they move on.
Rex’s drinking affects his earning power and the family moves to a West Virginia mining town where his mother lives. The mother takes the family in for a short while, but that doesn’t work out and they soon move to a dilapidated house in the hills. Rex still has grandiose plans of becoming rich, but the reality is that the kids have to fend for themselves to get their basic needs. Jeannette describes spending her lunch hour in the restroom, going through garbage bins to eat what other children have thrown away. In the winters, their rickety house is freezing cold with no fuel to burn. Keeping warm is a daily challenge with shoes held together by strings, thin, inadequate clothing, and thrift store coats with no buttons. Kids at school mock and tease them and the Walls have few friends, but the siblings are fiercely protective of each other.
Still the children excel at school, are in the top of their reading groups, and Jeannette’s work on the school paper is exemplary. Rose Mary has a teaching degree, but doesn’t have the heart to work full time and makes a mess of grading papers and keeping her students in line. To keep a paycheck coming in, the kids chip in and help their mother grade papers. But there comes a time Rose Mary refuses to go to school to teach; she wants to attend to her own needs to paint and write.
The Walls story is remarkable in that Jeannette has the determination to become successful on her own terms, yet still holds unconditional love for her parents. The Glass Castleis a tribute to love, fierce determination and triumph.