Dec 20

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle

a memoir

by Jeanette Walls


Picture 1Memoir/Autobiography
First Published in 2005
Publisher: Scribner International

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Book Synopsis:

The Glass Castle is an extraordinary memoir of a dysfunctional yet effervescent American family. Jeanette’s father is an intelligent, compelling figure, who educates his children on geology, physics and joie de vivre. However, more often than not, he was a drunk who was caustic and dishonest.

Jeanette’s mother was a free spirit who loved painting but hated conformity and the domestic life of raising children.

And so, Jeanette and her siblings grew up taking care of themselves. Jeanette became a successful writer in New York, a place where her parents eventually moved, choosing out of their own free will to live homeless.

In The Glass Castle, the behavior of Rex and Rose Mary Walls is shocking and unacceptable, yet at the same time, it is abundantly clear that they possess deep love and loyalty for their children. It is this contradiction that makes this memoir so gripping.

Picture 3My Book Review:

I read this memoir in disbelief.

It begins with the adult Jeanette sitting in a taxi, stuck in New York City traffic, on her way to a party, when she sees her own mother in rags picking through the trash. Despite Jeanette trying to help both her mother and father countless times, her father would always say they didn’t need anything and her mother would ask for something silly like electrolysis treatment. “They said they were living the way they wanted to.”

And so begins a fascinating look back into the true life of this strange, unconventional but loving family.

Rex is an intelligent, well read man and Rose Mary is artistic, and they choose to live life they way they want to live it. The couple are fiercely anti-establishment and seem unwilling to provide for their children (despite their apparent intelligence and skills they are very often jobless and extremely poor) and yet they love their children intensely. They simply don’t function the way we expect people (especially parents) to function, choosing to live life according to their own rules. They are infuriating in their negligence, but at the same time they shine in their individuality and are absolutely captivating – they are characters that are so well written, it’s hard to believe they are not fiction.

I won’t give away too much, just one example from the 2nd Chapter. Jeanette is severely burned because she was cooking for herself – a regular activity for her – at the age of 3. Three year old Jeanette was standing on a chair in front of the stove when her dress caught fire. They brought her to the hospital (a rare decision for this family, who would either go to a witch doctor, or to no one at all, when their children were injured) Then, prematurely broke her out of hospital “Rex Walls style”.

A few days after their escape, when Jeanette started cooking for herself again, her mother said, :

“Good for you…You’ve got to get right back in the saddle. You can’t live in fear of something as basic as fire.”

They were peculiar because they seemed incapable of looking after their children in some ways, but at the same time had a strict sense of conduct when it came to things like chewing gum, “A disgusting low class habit.” This is just the beginning, this memoir is filled with stories just like this, if not more astounding, and my heart went out to the children who suffered the brunt of Rex and Rose Mary’s choices.

The actions and inactions of Jeanette’s parents are so ironic that this memoir is addictive. The Walls parents choose to live this strange and ‘unsuccessful’ life in the conventional sense, but they have a good sense of humour and seemed to be content with their decisions much of the time. I almost wonder if I should do the same and truly follow what I feel. I know I would never do that, I like my comforts and sticking out of the crowd is not something I’d aspire to. But I suspect Rose Mary and Rex Walls were actually happy in the way they chose to live their life.

x Julie

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1 comment!

  1. Vani Sathisan says:

    I spent half the time cursing her dad! That man was so messed up, I thought.