Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Memoir Mondays... The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a Review

The Glass Castle
An Amazing Story of Joy & Survival

To see Jeanette Walls today, you would never suspect her upbringing. She graduated from Columbia University's Barnard College with honors and went on to become a reporter for New York magazine, Esquire, USA Today and MSNBC.com. To say her beginnings were humble would be an understatement- to see what she overcame to become the intelligent successful woman that she is today is almost unbelievable and would have been a great work of fiction if it wasn't all true.

Living like nomads, moving between towns and sometimes living out in the desert, Jeanette Walls and her 3 siblings learned to take care of themselves. Her mother was a free spirit and an artist, who would rather paint than take care of her children, her father was a charismatic drunk who always had plans for the next big invention. Her family was dysfunctional, and as we learn later on her father came from worse. Food was scare at times with butter sandwiches, popcorn, or crab apples stolen from a neighbors tree for dinner sometimes. They didn't accept food stamps because Jeanette's mother didn't want them to "feel like charity cases". And their education for the most part was learned on the road. But Jeanette doesn't speak with bitterness about her childhood. At times her childhood was a wonderful adventure, with her father teaching them about the sky above them as they sat out in the dessert late at night learning the constellations and how to navigate by the North Star. As her father said, " Rich city folks lived in fancy apartments, but their air was so polluted they couldn't even see the stars. We'd have to be out of our minds to want to trade places with any of them." And so they grew to feel privileged in their own way.

You are immediately drawn into Jeanette's life from the opening scene in the book where she describes a taxi ride where she is on her way to a party and spots her mother dressed in rags and picking through the trash on the side of the road. She was mortified, but not for her mother, but for herself- she was afraid someone would know they were connected. She had tried numerous times to get her mother 'help', but her mother didn't think she needed it. "You want to help me change my life?", her mother said. "I'm fine. You're the one who needs help. Your values are all confused." And that was the beginning of a change in Jeanette. The beginnings of Jeanette accepting her parents for who they were.

And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?
Just tell the truth, her mother said, That's simple enough

From there we are transported to Jeanette's earliest memories when she was 3 and where the adventure of a lifetime start. Compelling, honest and shocking at times, The Glass Castle will have you turning the pages and wondering how Jeanette came out of all that "life experience" normal. I felt anger, joy and empathy as I leafed through the pages. It's a wonderfully written story, where we see first hand the ability of people to overcome the obstacles thrown in their way, the great power of forgiveness, and how leading your own life can mean different things to different people.

In Jeanette's words in an interview with Cindy Bokma of Conversations With Famous Writers...

"I’m just a scrawny girl who grew up without indoor plumbing, and here I am wearing my fancy designer clothes asking Nicole Kidman questions. Life is so strange."

*P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!

10 comments:

Diane said...

GREAT REVIEW!!!

I LOVED this memoir. I have her latest NF - Half Broke Horses, waiting to be read SOON :)

Lorri said...

We loved this book also:) I agree, great review!

Esme said...

I loved this book. Have you read Jesus Land?

Michelle said...

i have this book in my tbr pile. i can't wait to read it now :)

great review!

Suzanne said...

Hi Everyone!
I really enjoyed this book too! Jeanette is an incredible writer.

Hi Diane- I didn't realize that Jeannette Walls had published another book! I'm going to check it out right now!

Hi Esme- I am also going to check out Jesus Land now too! Thanks for the recommendation!

Hi Michelle- It's so funny, I had this book in MY TBR pile for a LONG time and finally opened it up! You will enjoy it! Funny to say that about a book that is basically about the wretched childhood of the author...

Book pusher said...

This sounds like another great book, what a fascinating life.

Heidi V said...

What a great review sounds like a interesting read!

Tam @ Bailey's and Books said...

Good review.
I was just talking about this book, and really want to read it.

Jennifer said...

I read this book and while I liked it, I do question the author's ability to remember so much detail. I find it difficult to believe she could recall exact conversations, especially those that occurred when she was a toddler! Yes, I am a stickler when it comes to autobiographies. I have also meet the author and she is not quite as... evolved... as she comes across in the book. By a long shot. The takeaway lesson is indeed a rumination on overcoming struggles, though, and it is hard to argue with the value of that.

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