The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Genre: Biography/Memoir, Non-Fiction
Janette Walls grew up with very non-traditional parents who had some very unique views about raising children, responsibility, and life. While Jeannette was born in Arizona, the Walls family moved around like nomads for the majority of her young childhood….literally packing up their family vehicle, grabbing whatever they could carry, and doing the “skedaddle”. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had a total of 4 living children who spent almost their entire childhoods living in poverty, suffering from neglect & abuse, and never really knowing where their next meal was coming from.
“If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim”
The way Jeanette Walls tells it, it took the children some time to actually realize that the way their family was living probably wasn’t normal, ideal or even safe. When the author was 3 years old, she tells the story of boiling herself hotdogs because her mother was far too busy painting to be concerned with feeding her children. She ended up severely burning herself, spending 6 weeks in a burn unit complete with skin grafts….only to get back home and have her parents encourage her to, once again, boil herself some hotdogs as to “not fear the fire”. Rose Mary didn’t appreciate having to be responsible for her children’s needs, she was an artist who thought her time could be much better spent fulfilling her wants. Rex was a severe alcoholic who, at times, could be charismatic and engaging…but spent the majority of his children’s lives drunk, absent, or squandering what little money they had on gambling or booze.
At some point, money ran out and the Walls family had no choice but to move to a small West Virginia mining town where Rex was originally from and where his family still lived. Jeannette and her siblings were forced to fend for themselves while they lived in a literal shack that had no running water, electricity or food. Eventually, all 4 of the Walls siblings find the will to separate from their dysfunctional parents in one way or another and move on to forge lives for themselves.
This was an incredible story! I found myself feeling so frustrated and angry at her parents for the complete neglect, danger and abuse they continued to subject their children to…all in the name of selfishness and “free living”. What shocked me the most was Walls’ ability to see her parents for who they were as people & what they were/were not able to give her with a completely pragmatic and matter of fact point of view. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the child in her trying to gloss over, rationalize, or protect her parents’ abuse & neglect to some degree…OR, if she’s just that mature to not hold any ill will or anger toward them.
“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets.”
It will never cease to amaze me that people who are raised in such conditions are ever able to make it out whole. Listening to Ms. Walls describe the filthy living conditions, absence of food, lack of parental care, and utter neglect made me feel both angry and sad for her and her siblings. But at the same time, hearing her describe the events in a very honest, but non-complaining way was eye opening…at no point in her story is she expecting or even looking for sympathy. Jeannette Walls actually credits her parents, her upbringing, and the things she had to endure with her drive, work ethic and career. In fact, she actually mentions her family members in her Acknowledgments of her book:”I’d like to thank my brother, Brian, for standing by me when we were growing up and while I write this. I’m also grateful to my mother for believing in art and truth and for supporting the idea of this book; to my brilliant and talented older sister, Lori, for coming around to it; and to my younger sister, Maureen, whom I will always love. And to my father, Rex S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.”
I chose to listen to the audio book of this, and because it’s narrated by the author, the reading feels very personal and real. I found myself shaking my head or actually having my mouth hang open in utter shock at some of the stories from her life.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
The Glass Castle – Amazon