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A book by Jeannette Walls.

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Beauty Where You Find It

  • Jan 11, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+3
This is one of those stories that no one could possibly make up. By now everybody knows that Jeannette Walls and her siblings spent their childhoods traveling all over the country from flop to flop, living on bare subsistence with a father and mother who wouldn't take a stable home on a bet. That, however, is not what I find so astonishing; there are probably thousands of families just like that, and social workers write books about them and appear on morning talk shows. It's a lot more common than we'd probably like to think. The part that really got to me was the fact that, for at least their first few years, the Walls kids seemed to like it.

I find myself wondering how to respond. Are we to feel sorry for those children, raised by such blatantly and thoroughly irresponsible parents? Or are we to reconsider the whole notion of what constitutes good parenting, since the children survived and succeeded quite well? It has to be said that, when it comes to which of these approaches we should take to this story, Jeannette Walls herself is not much help. That, however, is all to the good. Her mission is not to pass judgment on her parents, but to show us just what they did, how she and her siblings reacted throughout the times of their lives, and what the results were.

This she does exceptionally well. Perhaps only an experienced reporter like herself could have told this story without telling us what to think about it. Then again, there is more than enough poetry in "The Glass Castle" to satisfy the demands of any romantic. For instance, in describing the Southwestern deserts where she spent her early childhood, Ms. Walls might have presented the merest physical facts, like the color of the scrub and the temperature of the air. Or she might have gone on for pages about how natural and unspoiled the whole thing is, tra-la. She does neither. Instead, she goes for just such details and language as a child of that age might actually notice and use. Thus we learn of her pride in being able to cook hot dogs for herself, her wonder at the abundance of desert treasures that no one but her family seems to notice, and the excitement that results because her parents think she can take care of herself and she discovers that they're right. Gushy, no; delightful, yes.

Every so often the narration stumbles and uses a word that doesn't quite match the age of the narrator, but that's impressively rare. Anyway, it's not like Ms. Walls tries to write exactly like a seven-year-old when narrating her life at age seven - this isn't "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," where the narrator is himself the age of the hero and begins "Once upon a time there was a moocow". Still, the narrator of "The Glass Castle" does seem to mature along with the subject, and her attitude toward her parents and her life changes over time.

That's exactly where this book provides one of its biggest and most satisfying surprises. This is the age of Jerry Springer, folks, and nothing is taboo as long as you tow the line. One line to tow is the notion that anything less than perfection in your parents is grounds for dismissing them completely. The Walls parents seem like perfect candidates, and Jeannette does indeed have a few bones to pick. Unlike other memoirists, though, she's careful to note that the picking goes both ways. "The Glass Castle" opens with the adult Jeannette on her way to a party. She spots her mother dumpster-diving and carefully hides to avoid any public association. Later, upon learning of this incident, her mother points out that there's nothing embarrassing about dumpster-diving if that's the way you want to live. Rather, it's hiding from your mother for fear of public exposure that's a sign of messed-up values. Touché.

In short, it's the balance between love and aggravation that renders "The Glass Castle" so intriguing. Despite the rage you see when children talk about their parents on television, most people feel about their mothers and fathers about the same way that Jeannette Walls feels about hers, I suspect. In her case, the extremes are farther apart because of the extremity of her parents' lives and the way they raised their children, but she is nevertheless always fair to them, first and foremost.

I haven't said a great deal about the stories of Ms. Walls and her siblings apart from their parents, partly because her mother and father take up so much psychic space in the story of her life until she and her siblings leave for New York. There is no doubt, however, that at the end of the story, Jeannette Walls' life is her own - she even gets over that sense of embarrassment at her mother's lifestyle. In short, she's a successful adult, and like all such adults, she has learned to see her parents clearly.

I read that Ms. Walls, despite all pressure to do so, has declined to write a sequel to "The Glass Castle" on the subject of her own life. She says that her life is too boring for a whole book. Good for her - she has evidently reached a point of equilibrium between love and aggravation, or to call them by their rights names, mercy and judgment. In Kabbalah, that mixture is called beauty.

Benshlomo says, Maturity consists of the ability to look back at your past without pain.

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More The Glass Castle: A Memoir reviews
review by . July 05, 2010
Jeannette Walls reveals to all the truth of her impoverished childhood...one of which you thought did not exist in America.      The book starts with Jeanette being a successful MSNBC writer and is on her way to a ritzy party in a NYC cab and at a light sees her mother digging through a dumpster.  This scene compelled the writer to tell the truth about where she came from and who she really is and stop hiding from herself and her family.       The …
review by . July 21, 2010
the glass castle, while at times an emotionally challenging read, is one of the more uplifting and triumphant books that i have read.  jeannette walls and her siblings had an incredibly difficult childhood, suffering through poverty, countless moves, an alcoholic father, and a mother described as at best  a 'free spirit.' the children manage to survive through the trials of their childhood, and are actually able to use these trials and lessons to become generally successful and …
review by . July 14, 2010
Some books take a few chapters to draw you in, the Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls, takes a page to completely sweep the rug out from under your feet.      "You had me at Hello." Random movie quote.      My deepest gratitude and praise to Jeanette Walls for laying herself bare in the pages of this book. You made me laugh and cry, and by the last couple of chapters I had to lock myself in the bathroom so I wouldn't be disturbed while I finished …
review by . July 12, 2010
The Glass Castle was difficult for me to read because it was emotional and there were some very difficult situations to stomach. Jeannette Walls lead an interesting childhood, to say the least. I think the emotional aspect is what made it so hard for me to read. I can't imagine a parent who would willingly provide such a rough childhood for their children. I would recommend reading this to someone who isn't overly emotional (like I am) because they would probably get more out of this book …
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
Heart-touching story. Incorporates a family's determination to survive while the father battles his own demons.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Very well written memoir. Hard to believe that there are places like this in the US. Highly recommend this book!
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
A sad, but good memoir
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Fascinating exploration of grown up off the grid...
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
I couldn't even finish this book...it just couldn't capture my attention.
review by . February 22, 2010
While reading The Glass Castle I found myself swinging from one extreme to the other--one minute condemning the irresponsible Walls parents, the next minute shaking my head at the wasted brilliance and originality of these people. Jeannette Walls parents, who spent her childhood running from police, bill collectors and child protection, refused to take charity or welfare, and filled their broken down home with library books were simply amazing. How one wonders again and again, was it possible for …
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Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. InThe Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be ...
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Books, Cafe Libri, Memoirs, Dysfunctional Families, Children Of Alcoholics

Details

ISBN-10: 074324754X
ISBN-13: 978-0743247542
Author: Jeannette Walls
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Date Published: January 9, 2006
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