lkt's Reviews > The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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's review
May 29, 2007

it was amazing
Read in July, 2006

From my review:

"Sometimes people get the lives they want..."

A stunning memoir, hard to put down. Walls is superb with details, a true genius. She is a fine example of a self-made, successful person. But throughout most of the book, I was so angry with the parents, her mother in particular:

When the kids had nothing to eat, she hid a king-sized Hershey bar in her bed for herself. She had an excuse for her behavior, whining that she's a "sugar addict." (And later, she refuses to get a job (or keep one, when she gets them) because she's an "excitement addict." Really, it seems like she's rather immature and lazy. How exciting is it to sleep all day or have tantrums about blaming her children for her failures as an artist?)

When Brian and Jeannette found the diamond ring, they could have used it to buy necessities like food and clothes, but their mother needed it for her precious self-esteem. She really lacks motivation to get up and do something about their deplorable living conditions, but is too selfish to do so.

When Uncle Stanley groped Jeannette, he mother didn't seem too concerned and actually felt sorry for the uncle, believing him to be lonely!

She refuses Welfare, despite the fact that her pride is harming her children, a form of child abuse and negligence. They are living in squalor but it's supposed to be an "adventure." The house is filthy with the mold, trash, mushrooms growing in the corners, and the lack of heat and indoor plumbing. It is not an acceptable environment and I'm surprised the gov't man didn't come back. If you really love your children, you should provide for them, even if you hate charity. Instead, she spends most of her time feeling sorry for herself, if she isn't pursuing her true calling as an artist.

And when she doesn't go back to one of her teaching jobs, she reasons, "It's time I did something for myself..It's time I started living my life for me...Why do I have to earn the money? You [Jeannette] have a job." It just made me so angry to hear her talk that way to her own daughter. She has no sense of responsibility. "I've got more important things to do," she also said.

For all her artistic ideals, she is whiny, pathetic, seems to care more about strangers and stray animals than her children. And it was ridiculous how she didn't want to kill the flies and cockroaches, and felt sorry for the big rat in the sugar bowl. She is encouraging the unhealthy conditions by keeping pests alive, so it seems that while she doesn't want to deprive insects and animals of food ("they need to eat too"), it's ok if her children starve.

And no, I'm not forgetting the father. I must admit that I had a soft spot for him, despite his alcoholism. He at least attempted to be a father, showing love to Jeannette and making her feel special,educating her on many subjects. I got teary when reading about how he read the same books on Jeannette's college reading lists so he could help her with any questions. He was more interested in her life than her mother was. But I was disgusted with Rex when he let the man at the bar take her upstairs. Definitely not a saint, but much more likeable than the mom in my view.

I really admired Jeannette in the poli-sci class, when the prof is talking about the causes of homelessness. It cannot always be blamed on drugs and SS cuts - there is a degree of personal responsibilty, as I alluded to in the title of this review. As Jeannette said, "If people worked hard and compromised...they could make ends meet." It angered the prof but I was proud of her. I wish she had told the truth about her background though.

Yes, I'm hard on the parents, but they make me admire the author even more, for breaking free from the traps of her parents' self-made poverty. She never gave up, and I know that if I'd been in her shoes, I wouldn't have made it.
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-6 of 6) </span> <span class="smallText">(6 new)</span>

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message 1: by Meche (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meche exactly - i was SO angry throughout the reading of this book it made it difficult for me to enjoy it.

Anne While I had the exact same reaction, I think I was most angry with the social worker who shows up at the house once -- but never returns. THAT, I felt, was the best example of what is wrong with the systems we believe are in place in this country to protect children. While Jeannette's mother is incomprehensible, I think the answer is that she's clearly mentally ill -- and as evidence by the number of times the children had to pull her out of bed to go to work -- very depressed. While these conditions may not provide an excuse for doing what she did to her children, I think it is an explanation for her behavior - and the behavior of so many parents out there who, unfortunately, are not receiving the help they and their children so desperately need.

Michelle Well said!

message 4: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen McLeod Oh my god! The father was a WAY poorer parent than the mother, but you had a "soft spot" for him? How horribly sexist - it seems everyone excuses the fathers behavior to some extent because he's a man, but put the mother under fire. Imagine if their places had been switched - if the father had just sat around reading all day and the mother disappeared with all the money for days on end.

message 5: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I agree Jen. I was mortified when Rex allowed a dirty man at the pub to take a 13 year old Jeannette upstairs to his room. Later, when she told him that he had attacked her, he brushed it off. If you can't excuse her mother for justifying Uncle Stanley’s groping, then you should not be excusing the father for this. Both parents were deplorable human beings and I commend Jeannette for speaking so highly of them and for her continual love and respect for them in later life. She is a wonderful human being.

Betweenthelines "How he read the same books on Jeannette's college reading lists so he could help her with any questions." The protagonist is not so malnourished as to have had any linger repercussions and what her dad did is what they teach to do in parenting classes taught by the best universities. He did even better than what is taught. I am soooo tired of memoirs where the protagonist is credited with overcoming obstacles while we ignore HOW they did so.
Then the smugness..."If people worked hard....". OMG! I am not going to read the book and I bet it gives zero insight into how her parents became bad parents just as it gives zero credit to the protagonist's circumstance...a teary moment for you is actually a vital reason WHY she enjoys her work and feels connected to society; something too many children never experience and thereby are forever deficient.

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