Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I gave birth to Greyson I was apprehensive about going home from the hospital because then I would be in charge of a whole human. Alone. With no oversight from nurses and doctors. I had a distinct feeling that a license should be required to reproduce and care for offspring.

And this book proves that I am absolutely right. These parents needed a license to reproduce. 

Jeannette Walls and her three siblings have some crazy parents. As the b book opens, Jeannette is an adult, riding in a car to a party through the streets of New York City, where she sees her mother rummaging for food in a dumpster. Because her parents choose to be homeless. Then we move right into a chapter about the 3-year-old Jeanette boiling hot dogs in a tutu while her mom paints in the other room, and when the tutu catches on fire, she has to be hospitalized for about six weeks and undergoes painful skin grafting. Her parents and siblings come to visit, but they often cause a ruckus and end up getting thrown out of the hospital. Until her father, Rex, decides she's been in for long enough and breaks her out "Rex Walls style." 

What a douche. 

The family is prone to "skedaddling" from their living quarters at any given time of the night, leaving their possessions, pets, and debts behind.  Rex is an alcoholic, and the mother, Rose Mary, just wants to be a famous artist. They scrape by on barely any income as Rex is constantly losing jobs, and they keep the kids' heads full of tall tales and good intentions so they won't realize what a couple of putzes they have for parents. 

This is an incredibly engaging book. I read the majority of it (200+ pages) in a single day, and I wanted to drop kick Rex and Rose Mary every step of the way. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop--to find out that they were both certifiably mentally ill, but that moment never came. Rex, and his alcoholism, are certainly a for-real condition. But Mary Rose? I couldn't tell if she was bipolar or just completely in denial. She had a teaching degree but refused to hold down steady work. Rex tried from time to time but consistently tumbled back into the bottle, stole money from his wife and kids, and generally conducted himself like an asshole. Issues, for sure.

The only thing Rex and Rose Mary seemed to do right along the way was force their children to be independent and resourceful. They were smart--both book and street smart. They "skedaddled" out their parents' house just as soon as they were old enough. Not a moment too soon. 

I tend to be leery of "sucky childhood memoirs" but this was one of the best memoirs I've read. I was thoroughly taken by this story of survival and wits, and I was SO genuinely relieved that the author and her siblings (for the most part) came out of this upbringing unscathed. It's a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It's just a shame they had to learn these lessons at the hands of their parents. 

This is one of three books I'm reading for the Estella Project

Pub. Date: January 2006
Publisher: Scribner
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780594485643
Source: Bought with my very own money.


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