Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
published 2006
288 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

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.

My thoughts -

I spent most of the reading of this book alternating between horrified and fascinated, and feeling a little bit like a voyeur watching something that I should probably stop. It took my several weeks to read - very unusual for a book weighing in at less that 300 pages - but I kept having to put it down over and over again. After nearly every chapter I just felt emotionally drained, needed a break, while I was incredibly interested in the story, almost dreaded picking it back up again.

It's hard for me to "review" a book that is the author's memories of her own growing up - how can I critique the narrative arc when it's just the author's actual life? I found her tone to be surprisingly unsentimental, which I assume comes from being enough years away from the events in the book that she can look at them through a somewhat more professional lens. I think the tone is what made the book work, in a way - if she had been overly emotional, her story could have seemed more sensationalized than real. But the way Walls tells this tale, there is no doubt that every word is true.

I found this to be a hard book to read. I'm not sorry I did, and I think it is an excellent piece of writing, but I don't think it will be one I will chose to revisit. If you are interested in a good memoir, this is certainly one to consider, but make sure you are ready.

Finished - 8/11/13
Source - loan from my mom
MPAA rating - R for violence and abuse
My rating - 8/10

I read this book for the Estella Project - find out more here!


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I LOVED this book, and like you found it shocking at times. I've since read all of the books she has written since - all great reads. Silver Star is the most recent --recommended.

Meghan said...

I agree with you on this - I read it some time ago but I definitely found it emotionally draining. It's hard to believe that this was her real life, but as you say, her matter-of-fact tone gets that across better than I'd have expected.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

You should check out Half-Broke Horses. It's a prequel of sorts about the Grandmother's incredible life. I loved it even more than this one.

bermudaonion said...

I couldn't put this book down even while it angered me so I get where you're coming from. I'm amazed at the spunk of some children.