Jeannette Walls is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com and lives in New York and Long Island and is married to writer, John Taylor. But it would be hard to believe where her roots are, her nearly homeless existence, her entirely dysfunctional family, and her wandering parents who embraced life and inculcated love for learning but never learned about living like regular folks. This is Walls’ memoir and the best and succinct way to understand this incredible book is as described by New York Newsday. “Some people are born storytellers. Some lives are worth telling. The best memoirs happen when these two conditions converge. In “The Glass Castle”, they have”.
It is rarely that two highly dysfunctional individuals come together and spend an entire lifetime together. It is rarer that that they become parents and raise the children in so very dysfunctional an environment and still escape intervention by child protective services during the entire duration of the children growing up. It is perhaps rarer still that the children become self sufficient and pull themselves out of the mess and tell the powerfully story.
Rex Walls dreamed big dreams, had a childlike curiosity about life, was highly intelligent, and loved his family. In the absence of his drinking addiction, he might have been an entrepreneur with some cool patents to his name and a huge big GlassCastle for his family. But he had a drinking addiction, most likely suffered sexual abuse in his youth, could not hold down a job, and could not budget or manage finances. He moved his family from one small town to another, “skedaddling” from place to place to escape from child protection services, creditors and so on. Like her husband, Rose Mary Walls was also a free spirit. She loved to paint and although trained as a teacher, she hated it because she felt her true calling was to be an artist. Often after she received money from her land that was leased by an oil company, she splurged it away in a few days and then fed popcorn for dinner to her children; sometimes there were no dinners at all and they were left to forage for themselves, and sometimes as infants, while cooking their own food, the kids set themselves on fire; their mother encouraged independence and self-sufficiency.
Rex and Rose Mary fought, Rex tried to kill Rose Mary with his car, Rose Mary screamed and fought with Rex when she found her children snacking on margarine because that is all they found to eat; but they always kissed and made up. Together, they created a family that was neither well provided for, nor well fed, nor well housed. While they lived dirt poor and almost homeless at times, they did not care to find out about and use their million plus dollars of inheritance and in another instance, let their inherited home in Phoenix crumble due to termites, and eventually to be looted. Despite the fact that a rifraf wandered into their home and was inappropriately touching their daughter, before she yelled, “pervert” and he ran away, they insisted on leaving their doors and windows wide open for air to come through.
After years of wandering through the West Coast and mid-West, they ended up on the East Coast, in the little town of Welch, in West Virginia. After the grandma tried to sexually molest one kid and after the kids were left in cold basement in icy cold winter, the parents managed to scrape together a small fund and bought a house for $1000 on a small hill. The house stood on stilts, was moldy and stove gave out shocks when it rained, the stairs cracked, and eventually a hole in the back wall served as the entrance. Jeannette’s brother Brian slept under an inflatable raft, because it poured in the room when it rained, her sister Maureen, mostly ate at her friends’ homes, and elder sister Lori found her dreams dash, even as the children pushed and cajoled and coaxed the father to stop drinking and mother to start working.
This is a story of unimaginable hardships and of incredible tenacity; a story with a bad beginning, sad middle, and a good ending. What can be more inspirational? Although Jeannette Walls’ parents never learned to live inside a proper home, within a budget, and without addiction or clutter, the children supported one another to make life better and normal, one which has boundaries of appropriateness. Jeannette Walls’ story powerfully tells us that neither our lives nor livelihood need to be determined by challenges, no matter how grave they may be. It is a touching story, beautifully told. I could not put the book down. According to “People” review, Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art”.