The Glass Castle. A moving book.
Our older son’s English teacher assigned The Glass Castle as their final reading for the spring semester. I had just read Educated, as noted in an earlier blog post, and didn’t relish the idea of reading another story I felt could be overly similar.
I was both right and wrong. Similar to Tara Westover, Jeannette Walls’ memoir traces her harsh, poverty-stricken upbringing and her determination to grow beyond her childhood limitations. But her childhood had unconventional freedoms, too. Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, were idealistic and nonconformist in the extreme. Unlike Westover’s childhood, the Walls had for many years a nomadic existence, with a brillant father who bounced between sober idealism and alcoholic rage, and a self-absorbed mother who stated her preference for painting over preparing dinner for her children. The painting would last forever, she reasoned, and the dinner would be gone in minutes.
“If we asked Mom about food — in a casual way, because we didn’t want to cause any trouble — she’d simply shrug and say she couldn’t make something out of nothing.”
So the children were largely left to fend for themselves. Eventually the family settled in West Virginia, in a town with relatives that added to the complexity and danger of everyday living.
“It got so cold in the house that icicles hung from the kitchen ceiling, the water in the sink turned into a solid block of ice, and the dirty dishes were stuck there as if they’d been cemented in place.”
The children made a pact to escape, one by one, requiring years of secretive work. Eventually, they all do escape, and then their parents astound the children (and this reader) by following them to New York City.
I enjoy Goodreads and read the site’s review of this book. In particular, I relate to this part of their review:
“What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. “
Relating these books to my life
Cynthia is writing this blog post, after reading both books. Cynthia knows her upbringing was idyllic by comparison. Two committed and present parents, a focus on education, opportunities for enrichment, a loving home.
Truthfully, sometimes I have taken it all for granted. Reading these two books has caused me to pause and acknowledge just how lucky I am, and how often I take my upbringing for granted.
Thanks, Mom and Dad. It’s one simple word but I mean the entire world when I say it. By reading these books, I see more clearly the choices you made, day and day and year by year, to put us first. I appreciate you!
And what about The Glass Castle movie?
The movie is largely faithful to the book, omitting some stories due to time constraints but keeping the basics in place. I felt the movie was particularly faithful to the spirit of the parents and children, showing them as I envisioned them from the book. I go back to the quote above from Goodreads, noting Jeannette’s perspective of affection and generosity, despite the years of work to leave. At the end of the film, Jeannette is reflecting on how she feels about her family, and she sums it up with one word