Monday, October 8, 2007

The Glass Castle -- eBooks edition

Reading this book was a bit like watching the proverbial train wreck. I am not sure how to convey the horror/fascination that I experienced while following Jeannette’s childhood journey.

In this brilliant memoir Walls tells the story of growing up with parent’s who are past-masters at the art of rationalization. One of the most poignant examples is when Rose Mary Walls, the mother, explains to her children that “being homeless is an adventure”.

There are many words to describe this memoir: sad, funny, wrenching, heartbreaking, quirky. None of these words, however, do justice to the emotional wallop the book delivers. The juxtaposition of dire poverty and huge dreams, of sheer chaos and near-comic situations make this a “can’t put it down” kind of tale.

Perhaps the most startling thing is that Walls obviously loves her parents, no matter how it worked out. She is seemingly free of bitterness and anger even though she has few (if any) illusions about her parents or her childhood.

The Glass Castle in this title refers to Jeanette’s father’s dream home; a transparent palace he promised to build for his family. It is also an apt metaphor for Jeannette’s view of her parent – distinctive, stunning and absolutely impractical.

In the end she managed to walk away with the best parts of both of her parents. And clearly sees that, yes, her childhood was horrific in some sort of way, but it was also filled with loyalty, great stories and much laughter. Her body was often hungry, but her imagination was nourished.

Out of her hardscrabble upbringing she emerged optimistic, creative and resilient. Not to mention that she is brilliant story teller. There is no mystery to why The Glass Castle has been on the New York Times best seller list for almost two years. I whole-heartedly recommended it!

Here is the publisher’s synopsis:

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly.

Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

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