Rating: 4 out of 5
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a gripping, poignant memoir detailing her quirky childhood filled with incredible hardships on account of growing up in a dysfunctional family.
Walls grew up with an alcoholic father and an irresponsible and delusional mother. Rex and Rose Walls’ nonconformist ideas about the world initially inspired their four children. The Walls family led a peripatetic life, relocating every few months. They never imposed any rules on their children and encouraged them to handle their problems on their own. Rex was a charismatic man who taught them a variety of subjects and often played with them, while Rose painted and wrote and mouthed off philosophical thoughts.
However, as the children started growing up, their rose-tinted glasses were replaced by the harsh reality of life. Little by little, the Walls children’s dreams of the Glass Castle—the grandiose promises of a spectacular home to be constructed by their father—started crumbling when they realized their parents were self-absorbed people, averse to responsibilities, and they would have to take care of themselves. This realization instilled a fierce determination in them to get away from their parents and carve out a successful life for themselves.
The book is fast-paced and chronologically written resulting in a smoothly flowing memoir. From the sunny desert towns in Arizona to the bleak West Virginia mining town, every locale is vividly described. Walls’ numerous anecdotes, some of which are disturbing, right from her early childhood till her youth makes for fascinating reading consequently making the memoir as compelling as a well-crafted fiction book.
These anecdotes also help in fleshing out every character of her family. For instance, despite wearing torn clothes to school, the Walls couple’s refusal to accept handouts for their children from kind teachers—they considered welfare schemes and food stamps insulting—emphasizes their narcissism. Several grim incidents demonstrate how the Walls children, supported each other and protected themselves from the very people who should have been protecting them. The text is evocative; certain scenes like the one where a young Walls and her father are out in the desert at night to “slay the demon” resonate.
Despite being a dark memoir, it is uplifting due to its rags-to-riches story. The unconditional love among the siblings, well captured here, helps them survive their eccentric, yet bleak, childhood. It provides an honest reminiscence of Walls’ childhood and shines light in the dark corners of her life. However, the warm tone throughout the book downplays the abuse that the children went through. Further, the colloquial style hampers the book’s ascension to a literary masterpiece.
The Glass Castle is an affecting memoir about a difficult and unique childhood.
Tread cautiously before picking this up since there are instances of child abuse.
Have you read The Glass Castle? If not, have you seen the movie? If you have read and seen both, which one you liked better? Do you agree with the book’s theme of forgiveness?