Monday, April 16, 2012

Just Finished: The Glass Castle

In The Glass Castle author Jeannette Walls proves that truth is stranger than fiction. Jeannette grew up living a vagabond life as her aloof parents dragged she and her siblings from one place to the next, often with the cops on their heels.

Jeannette's father is an alcoholic dreamer who is as brilliant as he is flawed. Always with the promise of creating an invention that will propel the family into infinite wealth (and with it a castle made of glass), he one by one loses the faith of all his children, Jeannette last.

Jeannette's mother is just as much a dreamer and after living with a supposedly overbearing mother, she wants nothing to do with established order (even to the point of denying her eldest daughter glasses). Despite her teaching degree she lets the children go hungry while she spends the days painting and reading. When the children force her to get a job, she throws tantrums, gets depressed and eventually loses her job and the only income the family has. Without food much of the time, they rummage through dumpsters and sneak food out of other students' lunchboxes at school.

The Wall children eek out an existence despite their parents neglect but not without significant scars. Because their parents believe in being "open" to the world around them, they leave the doors of their house in New Mexico (left to them by Jeannette's grandmother) unlocked day and night. At one point a pervert accosts Jeanette yet her parents still refuse to lock the door with a flippant 'what doesn't kill you...' attitude.

At times there are glimpses of love from the parents, but their own selfishness wins out. As the parents try to escape the lives they had as children, they completely fail to provide any stability or care for their kids. In their escapism, they reject even the smallest social norms without realizing their children are incapable of doing the same.

Over the years their parent's care deteriorates as Jeanette's father dives headlong into his addiction and her mother the same, though hers is simply doing what she wants. The family leaves the Southwest for an impoverished area of West Virginia, where they are the poorest of the poor, living in a shack they can barely afford with no running water or electricity and leaking ceilings. What little money they have gets spirited away to alcohol as the kids go to school dirty and disheveled.

After a few years the Wall children begin to make their escape each moving to New York city where they try to make something of their lives and their history.

The Glass Castle is something of a page turner as life at the hands of the Wall parents gets worse and worse. Yet Jeannette never veers into cynicism or bitterness. Her anger is tightly contained and she shows true love for her parents, though it's hard to imagine how she mustered it...or how she even functions as a human being. I definitely recommend this read. You'll be hard pressed to come up another one similar to it.

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