“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls: a book review

It’s probably a five star for direct and straight-forward writing, honesty and general flow, but the tale is heavy with dark twists and barely enough “light at the end of the tunnel” for me.

Yes, there’s redemption, but this isn’t a book you fly through in a few days. You should take it slow. There’s no reason to read this memoir, this terribly sad life spanning decades for Jeanette Walls, in a weekend. Why pump these wacky and awful memories in your own mind in a few days when she herself at least had the luxury of experiencing them slowly over time?

I enjoyed it at a 3 star level, but I know the writing is a 5.

It gets a four (4) because I don’t know how important this story is or how brave she really was for most of the tale. Some of you are going to hate me for saying this, but hear me out:

She happened to have the good fortune at a young age of being genetically capable of dusting herself off again and again where she could have easily been kidnapped or died of hunger or ran away and starved. I don’t know how much of her younger years were really any kind of learned bravery, but rather, something innate. Other kids in her shoes may have never been able to cope, somehow Jeanette just… could. I don’t know… as far as the critics of the book are concerned who say it’s the bestest, bravest thing ever — well, it’s like being proud of yourself for being 6 feet tall or being Latino or having hairy knuckles. Don’t have pride in what you have no control over. Pride should be for something you accomplish, not something you just happen to be born with. You can like it, and appreciate it, but for the critics or the author to have “pride” in something that just “is” strikes me as spiritually and philosophically questionable. On the surface, I’m a dick and this is a great triumphant and sad story. But I just want to play devil’s advocate. Some people’s lives are worth sharing. But can you not see how a reader could find the possible exploitation of a troubled life for the sake of book sales questionable? Someone with a nice life with not much conflict could write a book and it would never sell. People like the vicarious experience of other people’s lives that sucked worse than their own, and that carries a whole other conversation about the interests and entertainment values placed upon by your average American. It’s like that other book “A Stolen Life.” Is it really ethical we salivate for these titles of ruined, non-ficitional lives by consumers? Debatable.

Again, I’m not trying to disparage Walls’ tenacity, but cast some light on perhaps a more cynical view of how we all grow and deal with our shit. It is how it is. Walls’ kicks ass, but she surviving more than being brave in my opinion, and no, those thing s are not always mutually exclusive, though sometimes they are hand-in-hand.

Jeanette Walls DOES have a “triumph” story that she can tell, but it wasn’t because she was instilled with any great life lessons from an adult about “holding on” and working hard. It was almost fate. She just did it, and maybe that’s a cynical view and one that is surely in the minority, but she just happened to be who she happened to be and came out tough as nails. I know I sound like an asshole, but I want to point out that her success, and her “bravery” didn’t show up until her maturity came to fruition in the “Welsh” section of the book where she was 17, a junior in high school, and decided to leave for NYC. The end of this tale was a brave one, but most of the book is about a little kid getting the shit end of the stick.

I hate Jeanette’s asshole parents, and I feel terrible for Jeanette. But the real question is: should authors on a moral or philosophical level make profit from sharing a scarring life’s tale of themselves? Is an artful recollection of dark, personal events in one’s life ethical to sell books of, however cathartic or remedial?

I recommend this book to people who like fucked up lives or biographies/coming-of-ages where a milieu of awful, shameful, crooked, bastardly things happen to one family and one girl in particular. The family, Jeanette, and her siblings move from place to place in America, being dirt poor or homeless, unschooled, and Jeanette basically takes care of the whole family and herself from the age of 9. Jesus. By the time she’s in her 20s, she makes it to NYC, he siblings are for the most part okay, and her parents are still homeless drifters worth nothing with a fucked up view of the world. I would say it has to be read to be believed, but even then, you will not believe some of this really happened, and whatever “bad upbringing” you had will pale in comparison.

4/5

MH

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