As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

September 30, 2010

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls, 2005

The Glass Castle: A MemoirJeannette 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. . . . 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.

Review by Josi Kilpack, Culinary Mystery Author

I tend to approach memoirs, especially traumatic-childhood memoirs, carefully. I don't like to have my emotions manipulated by stories that lack depth, or, on the other hand, are so shallowly self-applauding that the sole reason for the story seems to be the author seeking validation for all that they have suffered. Above all of those things, I have no interest in reading the gratuitous details of abusive situations. Therefore, I was cautious when I first started reading Glass Castle. I thought the title was a play on the cliché "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" but it wasn't, not at all. Instead, the title comes from a promise made by the author's father that one day they would stop living on the fringe of society, stop skipping out on their debts, stop hopping from place to place and living from binge to binge--one day they would be a real family and live in a glass castle.

The glass castle never came to be, but it took many years and a lot of very painful experiences for the children in this story, the author included, to realize that their parents, while good and, in their way, loving people, were not whole. Mental illness, alcohol abuse, poor choices, and what I would call low moral character, ruled the lives of the children of these two broken people, forcing them to grow up in chaos that was not of their making. The story follows the chronological memories of Jeanette Walls as she is forced to live the consequences of her parent's lives and, in the process, learn about a world of which her family occupies a very strange and frightening corner.

The story is remarkable in the up-close view we get of severe dysfunction, but I was struck by the accepting and forgiving voice of the author. She has much to be angry about; many things to resent, and though she is aware those things, and likely worked through much of it before she wrote the book, I admire her love for her parents which comes out from the story. It doesn't absolve them of their poor choices, just attempts to frame it within the sphere of their imperfection. I admire the journey of forgiveness Walls has made, and I admire her telling the truth without sensationalizing details of abuse and mistreatment. The story would easily lend itself to anger and gratuitousness, but she chose against that and, in the process, allowed me to trust her to be sharing a story rather than simply selling one. I appreciated that very much.

Beyond the fascinating story of her life that plays out within the pages of the book, Walls is a wonderful writer. The words played together smoothly, with great depth and cadence. I was not at any time pulled out of the story due to poor writing or lack of ability in telling such a poignant series of events. I put down the book feeling fulfilled as both a writer and a reader (not an easy balance; as testified by how many books I do not finish due to my inability to turn off my internal editor). I was also left with gratitude for the childhood I was given by my own parents, and glad to know that my children will never wonder whether they will still live in this house tomorrow morning. I found the journey through Walls past to be one of learning and edification, a chance to reflect both on the life I live and the lives I encounter. It was a journey worth taking, and I highly recommend it.

Market: Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild to Moderate (domestic)
Mature themes: Poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, child neglect, mental illness

Book Formats:
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Paperback)
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)

To learn more about the author go here: Jeannette Walls

To learn more about the reviewer and her culinary mystery novels, go here: Josi Kilpack.


Julie Baird said...

This was a tough read for me. Heartbreaking. The resiliency of some children never ceases to amaze me and give me hope for others. The language is very coarse in places for which other readers should be warned. It is certainly a book worth reading and one that won't be quickly forgotten.

Amy Finnegan {} said...

I've heard great things about this book for a long time, so I'm really excited to read it now. Thanks for this GREAT review!

Heather Moore said...

I absolutely LOVED this book. I highly recommend it. It is fascinating. Although I'd correct the language rating to at least moderate.