Laura's Reviews > The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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's review
Jan 02, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: being-human, book-club, madness
Recommended to Laura by: Book club
Read in January, 2012 , read count: 1

Many of the books we read in my reading group annoy me because they tell the tale of some middle class white woman telling someone else’s tale. Like the author or the publisher doesn’t trust the underlying story (of the holocaust, of being the source of the immortal genes, of being African American in the south during the 1960s) to reach the audience, so we’re given a comfortable narrator to hold our hands.

This book is not one of those, but isn’t in a perverse way. A New York gossip columnist; the woman who outed Mike Drudge, tells her own childhood story of deep poverty, homelessness, abuse and neglect. Put another way, a woman who made her reputation telling gossipy stories about the glittering tells her own story. And it’s gripping. Her parents were . . . at best, self indulgent. Letting their children live gripped with hunger, barely a step ahead of creditors, and exposed to the groping hands of known child molesters while options existed – options that would have required them to be responsible adults, an idea, it seems, they could not abide.

Walls traces her life from three years, when she ended up in the hospital with horrific burns from trying to cook herself dinner to somewhere in her 30s. Her older sister became an illustrator; her brother became a cop, and their youngest sister seems to be still struggling.

It’s a good book. Well constructed. Starts with a bang, laying out for all to see the not-so-secret shame of the author, then walking it back so we understand how this thing came to be. I’ve worked my share of child dependency and parental termination cases; nothing in her childhood surprised me but the positive outcome for three of the four children. I had fellow feeling for the author’s underlying fear that if anyone found out about where she came from, they’d throw rocks at her.

It did leave me with the uncomfortable feeling that after you survive something like that, there are better uses for your talents than gossip columnist. On the other hand, that she survived, and did not become completely dysfunctional; might be enough of an adventure for anyone.

She was on the Stephen Colbert show, which tickled me. Colbert suggested she was destroying America through her work forwarding celebrity culture, a charge she did not deny. He asked her if her experience made her a kinder, gentler gossip columnist. She said no. But writing this book might have; she left her job not so long afterward.

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