Daily Archives: July 12, 2011

The Glass Castle

Bridget’s review of this book impressed me and then when I got home in June my mother was praising it so I had to read it.


I vaguely remember seeing the author on a talk show describing her shame of having homeless parents who were impossible to help. Reading The Glass Castle filled in the picture of dysfunctional, crazy (literally-IMHO), whimsical parents, and resourceful, brave kids.

Jeannette Walls was one of four children. Her parents were drifters, who flouted conventions to the extreme and to the detriment and danger of their family. (Really they’re lucky all the kids survived.) The father believes he’ll invent a way to extract gold from rocks or invent something that’ll make coal burning more effective and cheap. The mother has a teaching certificate, but really wants to paint. If the world could just appreciate their hidden “genius” seems to be their hope.

I try to reconcile or juggle idealism and pragmatics. This pair had no concept of the practical. Thus the family lives in one dilapidated home after another complete with leaks, bugs, mold, rotting wood, you name it. Sometimes there’s food, often not, so the kids have to forage through garbage cans to eat. Occasionally the mother ate food that she’d secretively hidden from the kids.

The father’s drinking, gambling and visits to brothels further hurt the family. He constantly took money from them to carouse, money the kids earned from odd jobs and babysitting that they tried to save so they could one day escape.

All suggestions Jeanette and her siblings made to better things were rejected. All complaints about the lack of heat or food or clothing were met with ridiculous urgings to be more positive or creative.

Early in the book I thought this family was like Paul ‘s of Mountain over Mountain. His father sold their house and moved the family into a school bus (parents and four kids). Wrong. Those parents were just colorful. The kids always had food and some stability.

Here the parents are a constant “challenge” (what a euphemism) for the children. The one thing they gave them was a love for reading and respect for knowledge so that the three oldest were able to use that to succeed.

As I read I soon went from just thinking “what a crazy family” to “how can people do this to their children?” I felt real indignation. The mother brushed off Jeannette’s report of how her uncle tried to molest her and the father used her sexuality to gain a gambling advantage. When confronted by Jeannette after that episode, he shrugged it off saying he knew she could handle herself with the scumbag gambler. Jeanette was still in middle school at the time. I often had to ask myself as I read, “Isn’t she just 10? or 12?”

While this is a chronicle of abuse, it also shows the strength and determination of the three oldest kids who could band together and survive this horrid parenting that was often wrapped in a free-spirited joy of life by people who believed their own PR.

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in contemporary, memoir