The Glass Castle
Author: Jeanette Walls
Published By: Scribner
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I received The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls as a gift from a friend the other day. My friend and I are fans of the written word, especially of authors whose tales we can relate to. We also share something else in common - we come from a dysfunctional family. You may be shaking your head and asking, "Who doesn't?" Well, as I was about to learn when I started reading The Glass Castle, some families are more dysfunctional than others.
Apparently, Jeannette is the second of four children. Their father, Rex, was an incredibly intelligent, but haunted and often paranoid alcoholic. Their mother, Rose Mary, was an artist and free spirit, prone to bouts of depression and an unrealistic view of the world. Jeanette's parents loved her, but often subjected their children to unnecessary hardship in their quest for free living and adventure.
Child welfare should have had a field day with this family, but the Walls kept on the move and were able to skirt much of the trouble with the law, bill collectors, etc. Jeanette's first memories center around a time when she caught fire while cooking hotdogs for herself because her mother was too busy painting to make lunch. This took place when Jeannette was three. The family often lived in the various cars they owned...or borrowed. When they did have an apartment or house to live in, it was usually a ramshackle mess, dangerous to the occupants in a variety of ways.
But Jeannette always had faith in her father and his dreams, like building a castle made entirely of glass with solar panels for electricity. Despite his bouts of drunkenness and times when money was spent on booze rather than food, heat and/or electricity, Jeannette loved her father and wanted to believe in him. She had grown to accept the dysfunctional world surrounding her family. This began to change when Jeannette became a teenager. It was then that she realized she could do better than living in a leaky, hole-filled shanty, wearing less than sufficient clothing, searching through school garbage cans for food, hoping that her father won't want her to go to the bar with him and perhaps risk molestation so her father can make a few dollars playing pool...dollars that would probably be spent on more booze than anything they needed.
As I read this book, no matter how hard I thought I might have had it or how hard friends I know have had it, I found myself awestruck at the things Jeannette Walls survived - things that ultimately made her a much stronger person in the end. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or at least that's what they say. I have to believe that the author of this memoir truly believes in that saying having had her brushes with the reaper on occasion. And yet, Walls writes this book with a bit of humor thrown in. She doesn't sound bitter at all, though she has every right to be. It would seem that she has made her peace with how she grew up and how her parents decided to live their lives.
My friend had told me that once I started reading The Glass House, I wouldn't be able to put it down. She wasn't kidding! After the first few pages, I was utterly hooked, often with a look of shock or dismay on my face. I know that my jaw dropped at least once while reading and yet, Walls has a way of making you laugh as well. Perhaps it is because, despite the harshness of her upbringing, Jeannette survived and was able to get something out of it all - a sense that life is precious, if you want to achieve something you must focus on that goal and never take yourself too seriously.
The Glass House was a mesmerizing read - to realize it was all true is shocking and yet, understandable. There will be moments in this book that many will relate to and others that will be too shocking for readers to want to read through. But read through them they will - Jeannette Walls is just that good a writer. The Glass Castle is definitely a must read for anyone who has grown up in dysfunction if only to realize that your life just wasn't all that bad...or that good can come from dysfunction if you are willing to grasp for it. I loved this book so much, I plan on reading more from Jeannette Walls soon - I think I'll start with a book about her maternal grandmother, Half Broke Horses.