“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through the Dumpster.” That’s the opening line of Jeannette Walls’ memoir. True to form without, The Glass Castle doesn’t disappoint.
We first follow Jeannette and her family as they shuffle from one desert community to another, one step ahead of the law and from homelessness. Her father, though brilliant, is also an alcoholic and usually unemployed; her mother is flighty and artistic with a hands-off philosophy of child-rearing. One of the author’s first memories is that of being burned — she was three years old and cooking hot dogs on the stove unsupervised.
The family eventually settles in a shack in the dismal coal-mining town of Welch, West Virginia, their father’s hometown and a place he had earlier escaped. Here the children manage to survive by fending off bullies and eating out of garbage cans at school. This all may sound rather depressing, but in fact, this is a very uplifting book. What comes through, loud and clear, is the author’s sincere love and affection for her parents — in spite of the obvious neglect and abuse. This and the fact that she was able to triumph over her upbringing and carve out a very successful life for herself makes this one of the best books I have read this year.
Now Walls has a new book out, Half-Broke Horses, which deals primarily with her grandmother. If it’s anything like her first book, it will be fascinating!