First Novels & Memoirs discussion

memoirs > the glass castle

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kyle (new)

Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments Mod
am halfway through this memoir. will finish tonight. anyone in our group read it? am dying to discuss for 2 reasons: i seem to have an opinion that is very much in the minority on this one, and, the resolution of why everyone loves this book and I don't (as much) speaks to the state of the memoir genre--the craft of memoir writing--as it exists today.

message 2: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (sdecker) | 2 comments I have read it, and truly enjoyed it. But I would be interested to hear your opinion... albeit an alleged minority.

message 3: by Lena (new)

Lena | 4 comments I enjoyed this book as well, that is, as much as someone can "enjoy" reading about such obscene neglect. But I would be curious to hear your comments as well, particularly given the latest very visible problems with issues of fact in memoir.

message 4: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (sdecker) | 2 comments It is amazing that a mother like that would not be charged with neglect or some other form of indirect abuse. Do you know if she is still alive? Did she read this? I can't help but wonder if she saw the Walls' children's childhood the same way, or if this depiction struck a chord with her.

It was a fascinating life Walls led, and frankly, I am surprised she came out of that childhood with such compassion. Although Walls' story was deeply troubling in several portions (especially the random acts of abuse towards their family pets), reading she believed in the love of her family over all else was very encouraging. What did you think?

message 5: by Lena (new)

Lena | 4 comments I had the impression in the book that her mother was still alive, but her father had died before it was published. I'd be very curious to know her reaction as well.

I found moments of real inspiration in this book. The fact that three of the four kids grew up to live relatively functional lives despite the severe handicaps they faced was a powerful tesatment to human resiliance. I think you're right that the love made a big difference - it was fascinating to see how the kids took care of each other when the parents were ignoring them. It's amazing just how far a little love can go.

message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 16, 2008 08:14PM) (new)

From what I learned back in the day, the traditional definition of a memoir is when an author tells parts of his or her story as it was "lived" and not exactly as it "happened". Memoir is supposed to capture highlights and provide some kind of accompanying reflection on those events. It kind of does a two-step: because the story being told is so experiential and personal, so located in the past, the event will be told in the voice or perspective of the author at that point in time (the teller sees and may even speak as a child)--at the same time, though, the author reflects on the experience and therefore adopts a mature voice to comment on the event and perhaps the impact it made on his or her life.

What I think is interesting and entertaining about hearing Jeanette tell her story is that the child voice is so mature to begin with, and so the past and present voices "blur". But there are "slips" in which her age and her lack of life experience reveal themselves painfully and clearly.

This style is so much like the family life she lived. Her parents insisted on self-sufficiency and independence and adopted this kind of "hands off" approach to parenting. Most of the time, I could see how Jeanette developed into a strong individual because of it.

Yet as impressed and sometimes even amazed as I was with her ability to make her way through her childhood maturely, I still had to remind myself that no matter how smart she was, she was fundamentally and above all else a child, and as a child, had fewer tools to deal with hardship or rejection or feelings of helplessness. A child needs her parents, who in this case, had a very odd way of coping with crisis and hardship themselves. When I "heard" her as a child, not the super-bright character of her story, but the vulnerable, naive, and occasionally lost little girl, I became more outraged at her parents for their neglect. I wanted to protect her. When Jeanette Walls re-experiences and re-creates feelings of helplessness in her memoir, I think she is expressing genuine hurt in the present time. "Where were you when I needed you? Why didn't you protect me?"

In re-creating that world of childhood and the sadness which accompanied it, I think Walls was being the most critical of her parents without ever saying so directly. She tells of their "neglect" without using any such word--she condemns them by telling the story with the sad heart, as someone who needed a parent to explain the truth of life as it is lived by others in a shared world and not a parent who insists upon a fantasy world lacking in complete common sense.

message 7: by Lena (new)

Lena | 4 comments One of the things I found most powerful about this book is that Wells refrained from offering commentary about how she felt during certain more traumatic events. At first, this frustrated me, but as I read further, I realized her simple recitation of what happened was enormously powerful because it left me to develop my own outrage at the neglect she experienced.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

You're so right! I would have been turned off immediately too if there was excessive commentary. But I am curious to know why she chose the events that she did, too. The logical answer would be that these events were most life-shaping. But there is still a part of me that felt she chose them for other reasons: sell books, entertain, etc. The characters feel exaggerated at times, but heck, for all I know, people really are that way and I'm just ignorant (e.g., W. Virginia). Sometimes, it felt like, "Well, if you thought that was bad, hear this one..." She had to have known who her audience would be and what they might respond of the events of her life.

Does any one else have ideas about this? Thanks!

message 9: by Lena (new)

Lena | 4 comments Given her previous work as a celebrity gossip columnist, I imagine she has a pretty well developed sense of what readers respond to the most.

Were there other aspects of her life you wanted to read about that weren't covered? Or were you just thinking the whole thing seemed too over the top?

message 10: by Jan (new)

Jan | 1 comments The book was well voiced I felt. Having lived very close to that myself, it was amazing to read her story.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Just wondering. Overall, I really liked this memoir. As far as over the top, I know now that it wouldn't be right for me to validate her experiences--it was real enough for her and that's why I was so moved by the book.

message 12: by Alie (new)

Alie | 1 comments Kyle, you've gone quiet after your original post. Pop back in pls.

I judge books of this sort pretty intensely, i.e., motive in the writing - self-righteousness, self-pity, self-promotion. (Mommie Dearest, Kitchen Confidential, James Frey) I expected to find that in this book and was glad to have misjudged. I don't know Janet's motives were but writing out a traumatic experience, as experienced as that age (i.e., a kid) is a tool that people I have known have used to great help. It's part of the process of healing, as is acknowledging blame in others and in yourself. As for Janet being critical of her parents, I ascribe to the Gorski belief that 'Your parents did the best they could but they still did a shitty job.' It's all a process. I assume and hope that Janet and her siblings have done inner work.

That is a good question/comment re: fact in memoir. I have two sisters, to listen to us we had three sets of parents, and we're all steadfast that we are speaking the facts. I've learned to let go of trying to sort out facts, my experience was my reality of the thing based upon who I was at that time. I don't even think the facts matter, facts are done, over, it's my experience that I wake up with. I'm not, however, publishing a book outting everyone I know. I believe in the pseudonym, fictional memoir (w/enough changes to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty).

back to top