Friday, July 23, 2010
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
In more ways than one, this book broke my heart. First, because it's true. Second, because I can't imagine living a life the way the author did, and then describing it in such vivid detail without feeling sorry for herself.
The Glass Castle is about Jeannette Walls and her highly dysfunctional family, growing up "without roots" in the United States. Her father Rex, is a functioning alcoholic and her mother--though no doubt a mother who loves her children--is entirely selfish.
The book leads with Jeannette hiding in the cover of a taxi while she watches as her mother sifts through dumpsters in downtown New York. Ashamed, yes, but more than that, this moment leads the reader into how the family came to be so separated, and what exactly it is that holds even the most hopeless of situations in tact.
Jeannette receives severe burns to her body at three-years-old from cooking her own hot dogs. She is her father's favourite and yet he continually disappoints the family with his boozing and gambling, leaving his children at home to starve, eating lard sandwiches.
Jeannette, if no one else, should inspire others with troubled lives, as she and her siblings managed to survive and thrive in the end, though not without memories of their upbringing at bay.
Without giving too much away, this book made me laugh. It also made me want to shake the living life out of the author's parents for being so ridiculous and selfish. Her own mother--while her children were starving-- ate chocolate under her blanket. She refused to get a job as a teacher because the system was a sham, and her father thought everyone belonged to the CIA or the FBI, or the mob.
However, despite the beatings and abandonment, the parents did love their children and did what they could (at times). For instance, one Christmas Jeannette and her siblings were each given stars as gifts. It was what they could offer and in a way it was an act that demonstrated the parents understood the wants of their children, even if it meant imaginary gifts.
"We laughed about all the kids who believed in the Santa Clause myth and got nothing but a bunch of cheap plastic toys. 'Years from now, when all the junk they got is broken and long forgotten,' Dad said, 'you'll still have your stars.'"
A favourite part in the story was when Jeannette and her brother schemed up an attack on the neighbourhood bullies in Welch, who had called Jeannette ugly and made fun of their family for living on a garbage dump. The siblings piled rocks onto an old mattress on the hill and then, as the boys biked by, propelled the rocks down onto them.
This book goes highly recommended by me, but isn't for the faint of heart, as it at times brought me near tears.
"...he said it was interesting. He used the word 'textured'. He said 'smooth' is boring but 'textured' was interesting, and the scar meant that I was stronger than whatever had tried to hurt me."