Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover. --Brangien Davis
About the Author:
Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist widely known as former gossip columnist for MSNBC.com and author of The Glass Castle, a memoir of her family's peripatetic wanderings during her childhood, which stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 100 weeks.
Watch a video clip of author Jeannette Walls talking about the origins of her bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle.
What I think:
Well, I did not pick this book. It was March's selection for my mom's book club. And in truth, I read the first 45 pages and passed it on to another member of the club (we try to share the books so that not everyone has to buy a copy, especially since our library seems to always have limited copies of most books). Once a few of the other members read it, they all said I just had to finish it. My reason for stopping it was because I was very disturbed by an incident involving a 3 year old Jeannette trying to feed herself and her younger brother, setting herself on fire and eventually being "sprung" from the hospital "Rex Walls style" before she was released. I was very affected by the fact that it's a true story of the author's upbringing. And it only got worse from there. Having small children, I cannot even imagine allowing the sorts of things that happen in this book to happen. But I did pick it back up and finishes it. There were a few times when I actually yelled, out loud, "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" Particularly the U-Haul incident and the very strange Uncle, whacking off on the couch next to Jeannette. Once I completed the book I was outraged but it occurred to me that it is a story of triumph more than defeat. Whether despite of or because of her upbringing, Jeannette grew up to be a pretty normal healthy person, as did her siblings (except maybe the youngest). And the more I thought on it the more I realized that it was not that her parents didn't love their children. Quite the opposite really. They were both just so consumed by their neurosis (Mom a manic-depressive and Dad an alcoholic) that they did not realize what they were putting their children through. I would recommend this book. But be forewarned, it is in no way a happy read, you will be disturbed. There is ever form of abuse in this book and Jeannette Walls is a very descriptive and talented author.