I can’t remember where I spotted “The Glass Castle” at the library where I work, but I was happy to see it show up in my mailbox a few days ago after I put it on hold. It’s the kind of story I’m fascinated by for some reason: the story of an underprivileged childhood and how inner strength is so important. It’s also got a fascinating look at the Arizona of decades ago, when Phoenix seemed like a small town, and the bits of happiness that can come in the midst of so much difficulty.
Jeannette Walls grows up with her two sisters, a brother, two flaky parents, and nowhere in particular to call home. Her family is nomadic, going from place to place as the mood strikes and the bill collectors come calling. Her dad’s an “entrepreneur,” as she optimistically spins the story for others; her mother is an artist, who spends days painting and stacks them four or five deep on the wall, rotating according to her whims.
There’s much neglect in Walls’ family – her first memory is of burning herself when trying to cook hot dogs, unsupervised, and her parents often shuck their duties and seem rather angry when the children point out how families are supposed to behave – but there’s also happiness. Walls has a good way of spinning a scene to seem idyllic, such as camping out under the stars in the Arizona desert, when it could so easily be seen as tragic.
It’s a really fascinating book. I tore through it, and I really felt as though I got to know the people. I’d get mad at Jeannette’s father when he got drunk and angry and ruined the family’s happiness. (The same went for her mother, who shucked any responsibility she had for feeding the children while keeping chocolate in bed with her, and acting like a five-year-old to get out of work.) I’d feel the frustration Jeannette and her older sister Lori felt as they struggled to break free of the imprisoning, spirit-dampening mining town their father had grown up in. And at the end of the book, I felt happy. She found the life she wanted.
I think I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile. It’s remarkable how strong, flexible, and tough children can be in the face of adversity, especially when that adversity, in the form of neglectful parents, is staring them in the face constantly.