Rating: 5 of 5 glorious pierogies
Review: I find this to be an incredibly difficult review to write. Not because the book was tragic (it was), or because it was inspiring (it was), but because it is so incredibly complex that I don't know where to start.
Glass Castle is Walls' memoir of her eccentric but impoverished childhood. Other reviews I've read point out that this memoir demonstrates how Walls and her siblings ultimately thrived, other reviews point out how much Walls and her siblings suffered. All of these things are true. One review characterized Walls' feelings towards her parents as "warm," which they were sometimes, but she also seemed to have some resentment and sorrow.
Walls' father was a daydreaming, and at times violent, alcoholic, and her mother an artist. It's apparent there were some untreated mental health problems with both parents, but what really struck me were their deep and unapologetic personality flaws. Both parents were unshakeably selfish.
In one instance, the Walls siblings literally had no food, were digging in trash cans and picking through the woods to find something, anything to eat. Walls notices that her mother was getting fatter, and sees her mother sitting in bed under a blanket, and seemingly fishing around under the blanket then putting things in her mouth....and the Walls children discovered that as they were starving, their mother was hoarding and gorging herself on chocolate. In multiple instances the mother, despite being trained and qualified and hired to teach, refuses to get out of bed and go to work, because she wants to stay home and paint instead. Here and there Walls' mother would say things like "It's time to do something for me" and reading that would send me into a blind rage, because it seemed that Walls' mother only did things for herself anyway. The most egregious example of Walls' mother's selfishness came at the end of the book, and it made me so bitter that I don't want to divulge it as a spoiler.
Walls' father was even worse. He was an unapologetic alcoholic, with grandiose dreams and no sense of anyone but himself. He'd wrap himself so tightly in his absurd fantasies and conspiracy theories that he was blind to the danger, and at times sorrow, he put his children through. He was so far gone that it was easier to brush him off as unloveable and hopeless. Ugh, I don't even want to waste time talking about him in this review, even though he's a driving force.
Despite all these negative things, the book was amazing. I read the whole thing over 3 nights (despite working each night til nearly 10. I've had a tired week). The bitterness comes purely from me, as the reader, and not from Walls. She had a number of happy times in her childhood, she had a number of times that were so incredibly bad they were just ridiculous. She generally did her best to make the best of things, but she comes off as grounded, not Pollyanna-ish. Her relationship with her siblings is incredible, indeed adversity brought them together, but it is more incredible that she seems to have come to terms with her parents and her childhood. It's not even an issue of forgiveness and closure, she approaches it more with a perspective of "This is where I came from, and it's strange and different, but it was mine."
I was on the fence about re-upping my Pittsburgh Speakers Series subscription for 2012-13, but since Jeannette Walls will be speaking, I simply have to go. This woman is amazing.