Monday, June 4, 2012

The Glass Castle

After a little bit of a rocky start (cough, Bitter is the New Black, cough cough), I now *love* my book club!  We've read some really interesting books and had some great discussions.  Last month we read The Poisonwood Bible.  I didn't blog about it, mostly because I forgot, but I think most people I know have already read it.  This month we are reading The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.  I finished it in a week.  It's a quick, fun read.

The Glass Castle is a memoir, a true story, about the author's crazy childhood.  Her parents were extremely intelligent people, but definitely have a few loose screws.  They are addicted to the "skedaddle," as they called it, picking up and moving in the middle of the night taking practically no possessions, usually very little money, and often no working vehicle.  Jeannette and her three siblings sometimes sleep out under the stars, and are thrilled when they finally get cardboard boxes as beds.  Eventually, the family settles down in a tiny West Virginia mining town, in a house with no running water, only occasional electricity, and a hole in back where they throw all their garbage.

As a child, Jeannette thinks their life is exciting, but as she reaches her preteen and teen years, she realizes how much they are missing (namely, food on the table, regular bathing, a roof over their heads that doesn't require sleeping under a rubber raft when it rains).  She and her siblings do eventually escape poverty, but her parents intentionally decide to live homeless on the streets of New York City.

It's weirdly fun to see all the strange situations the family ends up in, and they are all so chipper that the book seems very lighthearted, even though the tales of extreme poverty are pretty horrific (one night Jeannette and her sister eat a stick of margarine because there had been no real food in the house for days).  You feel like you can laugh along with Jeannette at all the "adventures" she survived. 

But my problem with this book (and really my problem with most memoirs) is that it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.  Remember in middle school when you learn to chart a story with an inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement?  There is no rising action.  It tracks her life up to the present (or whatever year she wrote the book I guess), but with no theme to tie it all together.  It feels more like one quirky story after another, a flat line, with nothing building up.

Another failing of the book is that Jeannette doesn't attempt any analysis of her parents.  Why in the world did they choose the lifestyle they did?  Was it something in childhood, or a philosophy on life, or mental illness?  They were so intelligent in some respects, and completely idiotic in others.  I really felt dissatisfied not being able to understand them at all.

But all in all, it's a fun read.  It's hard to believe someone can go through so much and come out on top, much less three people (two of her three siblings end up pretty good in the end).  If you're a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps person, you'll be a big fan.


  1. Okay, so I love this book, but totally agree about the flatline that is part of all memoirs... I do feel like this one at least had a happy ending though, which is more than I can say for so many memoirs.
    But as to the parents, I kind of liked that she didn't analyze their decisions... to me, it felt like she recognized that it was not her place to judge them and the "why" of their decisions. Although, as a result of her not doing it, you know we are all judging them! So then, who's fault is the judgement? Ours or hers? You know what I mean? Anyway, just a thought... I hadn't even noticed that she didn't explain the why before. Hmmm...
    Glad you liked it! I definitely enjoyed that book. :) People live crazy lives!

  2. I read a few reviews that agree with you, Jolee, that praised the author for staying relatively neutral and non-judgmental towards her parents. I didn't necessarilly want her to judge them, but to try to understand them. I actually think it would be easier to sympathize with them if I could understand why they were the way they were. But you're right that ultimately, it's not her place to judge the "why."

  3. Yeah, the sympathy factor would have helped... it makes me wonder about every homeless person that I see now though. ha! So crazy...