Just when you think that a few of your relatives seem to be a touch eccentric, they probably do not come close to being as dysfunctional as Jeanette Walls’ family in her memoir, The Glass Castle. Walls opens the book with a striking tableau of how, while on her way to a party from her posh Park Avenue apartment, she happens to glance upon a homeless woman rooting around a dumpster. The author then instantly recognizes the scavenger to be her own mother.
The reader is then drawn to Walls’ fascinating tale about how she and her three siblings grew up with their unconventional (that’s putting it mildly) and nomadic parents, Rex and Rose Mary. Rex is portrayed as an intelligent underachiever who is plagued with alcoholism and paranoia against the government. Rose Mary, on the other hand, is a dreamy, frustrated artist who’s so entrenched in her art that she can’t seem to be bothered into doing mundane domestic and motherly chores in the household. As such, the Walls siblings are left to constantly adjust and fend for themselves in whatever town their parents drag them to.
Love and Affection Amidst Parental Breakdown
The life and circumstances that Walls describe are undoubtedly fraught with hardships. However, her candid tale, though sad and outright shocking in places, is liberally peppered with humor and flavored with a sense of adventure. Her parents’ letdowns and outright cases of neglect are told through Walls’ filter that’s full of love and affection.
Her story resonates with the average parent. Besides obviously illustrating how NOT to be parent, the memoir poignantly shows a child’s capacity to forgive one’s parents and accept them despite their shortcomings. Walls fondly recalls a Christmastime when Rex took each of the children out in the dessert to pick a star out for themselves. For most of today’s parents who scrimp and scamper just to get their child’s favorite toy du jour, this scene is a nudge towards keeping things simple. Long after this year’s holiday presents are tucked in a corner and forgotten, the moments of the season will most likely be deeply engraved in our children’s memories to be cherished in their lifetimes.
Never Underestimate Children and their Capacity to Love
This memoir is written with such grace that the reader is moved to see what could have been a tragic coming-of-age tale turn into a triumphant one. Albeit not all siblings got through their desolate childhoods successfully, Walls’ tale shows how it is possible. Children should never be underestimated. Walls and her siblings may not have consistently experienced attention from their parents, but the siblings have always stood up for each other. Such familial bonds have made a pitiful situation more bearable. Even more amazing is how they managed to emerge from it with strengthened values and strong loyalties to each other.
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This is an after-holiday must-read for parents looking for reflection time.