The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Memoirs these days thrive on family dysfunction – how could they not?  This makes for pithy reading andGlass_castle  often a “whew, I’m glad I wasn’t in that situation!” sigh from readers as they plow vicariously through the next bestseller du jour.  Scattered among the many printed each year are rare exceptions – gripping tales well-written enough to make you a) wonder how much deprivation you can read about and b) like the book so much you hate for it to end.  This book definitely earned its place with these exceptional ones.

I started The Glass Castle with trepidations and wound up reluctant to put it down.  The author’s parents created their own categories, for sure.  Her dad, smart as a whip and contrarian to a fault, drank and smoked himself to an earlier death than necessary, but brought out the nonconformists in his children, teaching them things about the natural world that they certainly wouldn’t have learned in a classroom.  Her artist mom was no less an influence.  She was decidedly lacking in domestic and child-raising skills, but saw beauty in much more than order and also read incessantly.  Walls and her siblings learned hardscrabble resourcefulness at early ages when their parents were off on their respective tangents.  Neglect definitely bred resilience.

The uplift of this book is that there is very little parent-bashing here, nor sugarcoating of the author’s upbringing.  Walls writes with affection for both her parents, even though their ideas of family life were hair-raising, to say the least.  And, unlike so many memoirs, I came away from this one (quizzically to be sure) somewhat respecting her mom and dad.  Flawed they were, and erratic, but never dull.  Neither of them are the monsters that so many parents in childhood memoirs wind up being. 

To quote the author’s mother – “I’m such an excitement addict!”  Yeah, no kidding.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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