Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #26: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
My mom gave me The Glass Castle, an autobiographical novel by Jeannette Walls, and told me that Walls’ story reminded her quite a bit of her own childhood. I knew my mother’s childhood was rough, but I was surprised by the hardships on display here. Like my own mother, Walls had a difficult and often absent father, and she and her siblings often lived without some basic necessities and suffered from their obvious poverty. To my grandmother’s credit, though, she was a much better mother than Walls’ mother, a free-spirited, self-described “excitement addict,” who seemed to be irritated by the responsibilities of parenthood. The book is well-written and deeply moving, but it was hard to read at times, especially as I thought about my own mother while I read.
Because Walls is writing about her own childhood, it’s hard to critique the story. She and her siblings had a charismatic but alcoholic father who was frequently away from home and the afore-mentioned free-spirit of a mother who relocated their children every time the mood struck, apparently. The Walls kids had each other, but that was about it. On some moves, each child was allowed to bring only one item. The only stable place in their lives was their maternal grandmother’s house, but the father and grandmother couldn’t tolerate each other, and the mother chose the father every time.
Walls clearly felt a stronger connection to her father than her mother, and that was sometimes hard to understand. Like my own grandfather, Walls’ father had big plans for his family that he just couldn’t make into reality. The title of the book comes from the father’s dream to build his family a literal glass castle to live in. He would often talk about it and other schemes with Jeannette, who seemed to have a better relationship with him than the other children did. Jeannette is also sure to include her father’s efforts to improve, such as a few stints with sobriety. On the other hand, the mother is depicted as uniformly awful. She has resources but chooses not to use them for her children’s benefit, and, unlike the father, she came from a decent family and had an education, so she should have known better. Again, it’s hard to critique Walls’ depiction of her parents. Regardless of which one did a “better” job of parenting Jeannette and her siblings, both parents clearly failed, and the success of the Walls children as adults is surprising and inspiring.