Apparently, I am one of the last women in the world to read Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle. It has been recommended to me umpteen times. When a friend urged me to borrow her copy so we could talk about it, it seemed like it was finally time to read the book that most people described as “a memoir of a girl whose parents choose to be homeless.” After reading the book, I now understand why this is a shorthand for describing the book, yet I think it gives more weight to later developments of the parents, and not enough to the bulk of the book, which is the unlikely survival and escape of the three elder Walls children from their poverty-stricken, bat$hit crazy childhoods.
At lunchtime, when other kids unwrapped their sandwiches or bought their hot meals, Brian and I would get out books and read. Brian told everyone he had to keep his weight down because he wanted to join the wrestling team when he got to high school. I told people that I had forgotten to bring my lunch. No one believed me, so I started hiding in the bathroom during lunch hour. I’d stay in one of the stalls with the door locked and my feet propped up so that no one would recognize my shoes.
When other girls came in and threw away their lunch bags in the the garbage pails, I’d go retrieve them. I could not get over the way kids tossed out all this perfectly good food: apples, hard-boiled eggs, packages of peanut-butter crackers, sliced pickles, half-pint cartons of milk, cheese sandwiches with just one bite taken out because the kid didn’t like the pimentos in the cheese. I’d return to the stall and polish off my tasty finds. (173)
Walls tells the stories from her childhood with a light touch. She has amazing reserves of love for her parents, despite the ongoing trauma they put her and her siblings through. I kept reading because I wanted those kids to escape from the parents. It’s amazing that they did, and even more so that the three eldest became successful.
Like the best memoirs–Mary Karr, Cheryl Strayed both come to mind–this one is self-deprecating, often funny, and not recriminating, though I think it’s impossible not to judge the parents, even as we grudgingly admire their many positive traits that Walls carefully enumerates.