September 17, 2008

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

How can one not get hooked by a book that starts thusly:

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet.

[ . . . ]

I slid down in my seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

My sister shared The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls with me. Ms. Walls recounts her childhood with her intelligent, well-informed, and severely negligent parents. At age 3 she was routinely cooking her own hot dogs over a gas flame and firing guns - a pretty good shot even. Her brother slept under a rubber boat to keep the leaks from the roof off his bed.

The family reminds me of one that my Mom befriended in my childhood. The S family would arrive a dinner time: mom, five kids, and a goat. Yes, Mrs. S. carried a goat around in the back seat of her station wagon, atumble with the kids back there.

We would go over to trailer to help them clean, excavating trails in search of long-buried back bedrooms. We once found a dearly-departed kitten preserved in a shoebox. The lack of heat in the home had kept the stench at bay.

When I was a young adult, I knew another family (family M) who lived in a similar manner. The common thread I recognize betwixt the Wells family, and the S. family and the M. family is the value of big plans. In their worlds, big plans more than compensated for lack of ordinary day-to-day competencies. Faith in one another's future triumphs and empathetic rage against the system that thwarted them was evidence of love. Expectations of responsible decision-making was evidence of disloyalty.

This reminds me of another interesting read: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple.



  1. I so regret not buying this when I saw it on sale for $4.

  2. Sounds good! I ordered it on Paperbackswap just now.

  3. I have been very curious about this book, I saw it reviewed in a magazine. But with all memoirs, I;m a little hesitant not knowing if it is true or not.

    I'll be on the lookout now.

  4. I really enjoyed this as of my favorite "my childhood was crazier than yours" memoirs I've read. Jacki, I did find some of it strained credibility but wasn't impossible to believe. I with Suzanne: 5 star book!


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