Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Glass Castle

"How many places have we lived?" I asked Lori.
"That depends on what you mean by 'lived,'" she said. "If you spend one night in some town, did you live there? What about two nights? Or a whole week?"
I thought. "If you unpack all your things," I said.
We counted eleven places we had lived, then we lost track. We couldn't remember the names of some of the towns or what the houses we had lived in looked like. Mostly, I remembered the inside of cars.
"What do you think would happen if we weren't always moving around?" I asked.
"We'd get caught," Lori said. (p. 29)

I won't soon forget the accounts of Jeannette Walls' childhood that are shared in her book The Glass Castle. She begins at the age of three when she is accidentally burned by water on the stove while cooking hot dogs and continues through adulthood when she is finally on her own but still coming to terms with the lifestyle that her parents have chosen. Jeannette and her three siblings lived in many places and in very dire conditions. Her parents' behavior and ideas were unusual and often extreme. Living in desert towns, in the Appalachia's, and finally in New York City, their homes, schools, friends, and living conditions changed frequently. And their family's survival was a daily struggle throughout their childhoods. But one thing always remained stable throughout their lives: their father's dream of hitting it big one day as an entrepreneur and building a glass castle for his family.

One day Professor Fuchs asked if homelessness was the result of drug abuse and misguided entitlement programs, as the conservatives claimed, or did it occur, as the liberals argued, because of cuts in social-service programs and the failure to create economic opportunity for the poor? Professor Fuchs call on me.
I hesitated. "Sometimes, I think, it's neither."
"Can you explain yourself?"
"I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want."
"Are you saying homeless people want to live on the street?" Professor Fuchs asked. "Are you saying they don't want warm beds and roof over their heads?"
"Not exactly," I said. I was fumbling for words. "They do. But if some of them are willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet."
Professor Fuchs walked around from behind her lectern. "What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged?" she asked. She was practically trembling with agitation. "What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?"
The other students were staring at me.
"You have a point," I said. (pp. 256-257)

As Jeannette Walls openly admits, she did not discuss her childhood and was ashamed of how she grew up as well as how her parents chose to live. But in her memoir The Glass Castle, she finally shares that story with others. I highly recommend this book.


Rebecca Reid said...

And yet, she seems subtle proud of her parents in the end: she did OK despite everything. I also loved this book, thanks for the review.

alisonwonderland said...

i read this with my IRL book club a year or two ago. i think we all enjoyed it. thanks for the review.