Marika Gillis's Reviews > The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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Mar 29, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: memoirs-auto-biographies, book-club-read
Read in March, 2008

This New York Times bestseller is an exquisitely written memoir. Jeannette Walls tells the story of growing up with free-spirited, irresponsible parents who lived life as an adventure and avoided obligation and domesticity. Jeannette's alcoholic father was strikingly intelligent and charming while simultaneously frightening in his carelessness. He rarely held down a job and squandered any money the family found to support his alcohol addiction. Her mother, an avid reader and dedicated artist, was incomprehensively self absorbed. Jeannette's parents weren't afraid to cross the line of legality to make ends meet and were quick to grab their kids and "skedaddle" when their lifestyle began to catch up to them. This memoir describes the adventures and the hardships of growing up with parents who cared little for routine, structure, security, and safety but valued education and individuality. I think the best way to describe this book is by sharing some excerpts that stood out to me as I read.

...the wood was chewed through everywhere. We kept stepping on soft spots in the floorboards, crashing through, and creating new holes. "Damned if this floor isn't starting to look like a piece of Swiss cheese," Dad said one day. He told me to fetch him his wire cutters, a hammer, and some roofing nails. He finished off the beer he was drinking, snipped the can open with his wire cutters, hammered it flat, and nailed it over the hole. He needed more patches, he said, so he had to go out and buy another six-pack. After he polished off each beer, he used the can to repair one of the holes. And whenever a new hole appeared, he'd get out his hammer, down a beer, and do another patch job.
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One evening when Dad was away and we had nothing to eat and we were all sitting around the living room trying not to think about food, Mom kept disappearing under the blankets on the sofa bed. At one point, Brian looked over.

"Are you chewing something?" he asked.

"My teeth hurt," Mom said, but she was getting all shifty-eyed, glancing around the room and avoiding our stares. "It's my bad gums. I'm working my jaw to increase the circulation."

Brian yanked the covers back. Lying on the mattress next to Mom was one of those huge family-sized Hershey chocolate bars, the shiny silver wrapper pulled back and torn away. She'd already eaten half of it.

Mom started crying, "I can't help it," she sobbed. "I'm a sugar addict, just like your father is an alcoholic."

She told us we should forgive her the same way we always forgave Dad for his drinking. None of us said a thing. Brian snatched up the chocolate bar and divided it into four pieces. While Mom watched, we wolfed them down.
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One day we heard on the radio that a woman in the suburbs had seen a mountain lion behind her house and had called the police, who shot the animal. Dad got so angry he put his fist through a wall. "That mountain lion had as much right to his life as that sour old biddy does to hers," he said. "You can't kill something just because it's wild."

Dad stewed for a while, sucking on a beer, and then told us to get in the car.

"Where are we going?" I asked. We hadn't been on a single expedition since we moved to Phoenix. I missed them.

"I'm going to show you," he said, "that no animal, no matter how big or wild, is dangerous as long as you know what you are doing."

Even writing about something as personal as her own difficult childhood, Ms. Walls is able to do so matter-of-factly and in such a way that illustrates for her readers the endearing qualities of her dysfunctional parents (which I, unobjectively, did not include examples of) while frankly stating those experiences that were dangerous and difficult. This writing encourages the readers own feelings to surface without being clouded by the author's judgement, criticism, or defensiveness. I couldn't help but feel pride on her behalf as Jeannette Walls overcomes her difficult childhood at the end of the book to become wealthy and successful.

I don't usually choose to read memoirs, and I might never have picked this book up if it hadn't been the talk of my school for the past couple of months. After a conversation with the school secretary and assistant principal about our favorite books, I found this one in my box just before spring break and I knew I would have to be ready to talk about it when I returned to school. Luckily, it was one of those books that I just couldn't put down and I can understand why the well-worn copy I was reading has swept through our halls so quickly. If you're ever feeling a little down on your luck or disappointed about your lot in life, this book will surely give you a little perspective!
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12/08 marked as: read

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