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The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

January 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Annette in Books | Perspectives | Reviews | Writing Tips

The Glass Cas­tle, by Jean­nette Walls is a com­pelling read. Nor­mally when I become so engrossed in a book I give it an instant five stars. Not so with The Glass Cas­tle. I’m giv­ing it four stars. The writ­ing itself is fan­tas­tic. Jean­nette Walls is a top-notch writer who uses the first per­son flaw­lessly. Usu­ally I get sick of all the, “I did this,” and, “I did that.” “I, I, I …” It’s enough to make me crazy! But I didn’t feel that way while read­ing The Glass Cas­tle. The sen­tence struc­ture is full of vari­a­tion, and greatly refresh­ing. Jean­nette Walls writes bril­liantly. Period. She helps the reader under­stand the feel­ings of all her char­ac­ters, not just the one. I’m an instant fan.

The main rea­son I didn’t give this book five stars is because it is true. That said, had it been a work of fic­tion I would have tossed it by chap­ter two, telling my self, this junk just isn’t plau­si­ble. And yet, it hap­pened. The more I read, the more that fact both­ered me. Jean­nette and her sib­lings han­dled the sit­u­a­tion amaz­ingly well, but the par­ents … I couldn’t get past them. It seems so wrong to reward that kind of thing with praise, even if it is a mem­oir. Had it not been for their kooky approach to life, there would not have been a rea­son to write the book. It’s a cir­cle I couldn’t escape: I hate that it’s true, yet it’s so well writ­ten that I couldn’t put it down. This tight knit fam­ily strug­gled des­per­ately, but it didn’t have to be that way. While it was obvi­ous the par­ents loved their chil­dren, they were so absorbed in self­ish­ness that their love was never real­ized. It never amounted to any­thing. The chil­dren were starv­ing while the mother ate secret choco­late bars. The chil­dren had no clothes, no toi­let, no warmth, no decent shel­ter, or food, while their father drank away every cent they had. When the kids earned money, the father stole it. When the kids found a dia­mond ring in the woods, and were going to sell it to buy food, the mother took it. After all, she deserved to wear nice things. The father even put his daugh­ter in phys­i­cal dan­ger so that he could win a bet. These kids were eat­ing out of the school garbage can. Jeannette’s brother had to sleep with a raft over him because of the mas­sive leak in the roof. When the chil­dren were in dan­ger, the par­ents shrugged their shoul­ders. When the chil­dren were being sex­u­ally abused, the par­ents ratio­nal­ized it away. After all, the abuser was only lonely, and chil­dren need to learn to han­dle those kinds of sit­u­a­tions any­way. It made for shock­ing, riv­et­ing read­ing, but it also left me feel­ing warped.

So five stars to Jean­nette for her amaz­ing abil­ity to write such a fluid nar­ra­tive. Zero stars to the par­ents who made the story pos­si­ble. Four stars to the book, with the ratio­nal­iza­tion that it prob­a­bly should be five, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.


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