Monday, August 10, 2015

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I've never been much of a memoir fan, but I decided to read The Glass Castle because I've seen it on so many lists of great books. I thought it was an interesting read. This is the story of four children raised by a mother, Rose Mary Walls, who is self centered and optimistic to a fault and a father, Rex Walls, who is a drunk with big dreams. Jeannette Walls, the author and narrator, is one of those children.

I loved the way Walls managed to slowly move the story from quirky and fun to sad and pathetic. It could have been boring if it was just a simple list of bad parenting choices, but the story has a general arc that works. I also liked the connection between the children, in particular between Jeannette and Brian. They protect each other and support each other when nobody else is there for them. I also enjoyed the fact that aspects of the parents' issues could be admired, if they weren't so extreme. In her Acknowledgments section Jeannette Walls says “...grateful to my mother for believing in art and truth...” and “ my father, Rex. S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.” Their dreams were admirable. Their decisions to put their dreams over the needs of their children were not.

The one issue I had with the memoir was the way the children were portrayed. It did not seem as if they were looked at as critically as the parents. Maureen's flaws were pointed out, especially late in the book, but Lori, Brian, and Jeannette all seemed to have it together as much as possible. Even their problems, such as Jeannette's early fascination with fire, seemed to be a result of their parents' choices. The story is about survival, but I had trouble believing the children didn't have more of their own issues.

I can see aspects of Rex and Rose Mary Walls in people I know and judging by other reactions to The Glass Castle others make the same type of connections. This is what makes the character strong and I like to think it is what makes the memoir appealing.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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