Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls' memoir is a gripping tale of a dirt poor, nomadic family, headed by irresponsible parents who barely even tried to provide for their children. Their lives were full of pipe dreams, and plans to build a glass castle in which they would live in some unspecified future time. Their reality consisted of running from debts, living in run-down houses with no heat or water, starving, lying, and refusing any help available to them.

Maybe I'm just cynical because of the recent memoir scandals, or maybe it's just because of my general feelings about memoirs, but some of the anecdotes read like tall tales. Although I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of her story, I do not for one moment believe that she was proficient with a pistol when she was 4 years old, or that she was an excellent reader when she was 3. The story about how the family filled up the entire car with grapes and ate only grapes for weeks just made me wonder how long grapes will still be edible. They don't last for "weeks" at my house. I also don't think a wild rat - or any wild animal - is going to climb into your bed and come after you, but I suppose anything is possible. Much of this is surely based on poor memories or just the way the author perceived events as a child.

Nevertheless, I was carried through on the quick narrative flow, but I think the real strength of this book is in the characters. Walls' parents were fascinating. They were both very smart, with hippie-ish ideals, but lazy and unfocused. Their father was an alcoholic and spent any money he could get on booze; their mother was immature and selfish, and most likely mentally ill. The author is far more forgiving than I would have been and way too much of a pushover with her father. I don't care how charming the guy was - if it was between food for me and booze for him, I wouldn't hand over all the family's money to him.

An interesting story and decent writing; despite its few faults, it was better than many memoirs I have read. Most importantly, I came away feeling very grateful that my mother isn't a lunatic.

1 comment:

Sitcomgirl said...

My problem with that book was that it didn't read very emotionally. Maybe it was hesitancy that these things actually happened that way. Or that she wrote it without feeling sorry for herself, but given the things that happened to her I expected tears and there were none.