Book Review: The Glass Castle By Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls, a successful writer for MSNBC, hid the real story of her childhood for years. In her memoir she finally lets the world know the truth. She was raised by an alcoholic father and an incredibly selfish artist mother, both of whom were brilliant. Yet their personal demons and quirks meant Jeannette was raised in near constant neglect and also suffered emotional and some physical abuse. The memoir chronicles her changing perception of her parents from brilliant counter-culturalists to an embarassment she wanted to escape.
Jeannette’s memoir is incredibly well-written. She manges to recapture her young perceptions at each point in the story from her idolization of her father at the age of five to her disgust at her mother at the age of fifteen. Often memoirs about bad childhoods are entirely caught up in the writer’s knowledge as an adult that this was all wrong. While this is most certainly true, it makes for a better experience for the reader to almost feel what it is like for a child to become disillusioned of her parents. Children naturally love their parents, and abused and/or neglected children are no different. It is just for them instead of just realizing their parents are human like children from normal families do, they also realize that their parents screwed them over. Jeannette subtly and brilliantly presents this realization and all the pain that comes with it. She doesn’t want to believe her father would endanger her when he’s drunk. She doesn’t want to believe that her mother makes her children eat popcorn for three days straight while she herself pigs out on all the king-sized chocolate bars she can eat. Yet Jeannette cannot escape the facts.
This memoir is also different from other bad childhood memoirs in that Jeannette never loses compassion for her parents. As her awareness grows throughout the book, she also struggles to understand how her parents ended up the way they did. [Spoiler Warning] A particularly moving scene is when the family goes to visit Jeannette’s father’s mother in spite of his protests. Jeannette walks in on her grandmother claiming to be mending her brother’s pants while they are still on him, but actually groping him. Jeannette’s reaction, after saving her brother from the groping, is to wonder if maybe this is why her father drinks so much. Maybe her grandmother did the same thing to her father, and there was no one to save him. Maybe these are really the demons he is fighting. To realize this, to even care about it after everything her father has put her through is truly remarkable. [End Spoiler]
Jeannette is an excellent writer and an incredible human being. Readers will be astounded not only at her unique, messed-up childhood but also at how she overcame it and simultaneously maintained sympathy for her parents who so wronged her. Jeannette is an inspiration in multiple ways, and her memoir is definitely worth the read.
4 out of 5 stars