Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls

Summary: A memoir of Walls' life growing up poor in the American southwest and West Virginia.  Raised by parents who believed in extreme self-sufficiency, Walls' family lived a transient life, often living without adequate housing and food.  The book focuses largely on her parents, who managed to raise intelligent and (largely) successful children while failing to live a traditionally successful life themselves.

Musings:  I've heard of this book for quite awhile, but it wasn't one I had actively sought out.  But, I was looking to take a YA break and also bring in more nonfiction to my reading list, so this seemed like a good choice.

I typically have a difficult time with "rough childhood" and/or abuse memoirs because I find that their sensational stories are often used to cover up poor writing.  While I may sympathize with what the writers experienced, I can't read a story that is more "abuse porn" than literature.  Fortunately, Walls writes her story in simplistic and engaging prose that acknowledges her life's struggles and successes without becoming maudlin.

The story was still challenging for me most of the time, primarily because I felt such loathing for Walls' parents.  Although they are to be credited with raising intelligent children, I primarily saw them as narcissistic losers more interested in themselves than their family.  This is not a story about poverty despite parents' best attempts otherwise.  It is a story about a family in dire poverty because the parents are unwilling to consider others' needs before their own and sacrifice petty wishes for the broader good.  Individualism taken to a dangerous extreme.  The parents are not abusive by normal standards--they provide love and encouragement to their children and do not hit their kids--but their lack of physical care for their children is all the more egregious because of it.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.  All but the youngest child are immensely more successful once they move to New York and are able to live without their parents stealing their money and irrationally destroying their opportunities for success.  In fact, I felt my hatred for the parents lessening once the children were thriving and the parents were more nuisances than serious hindrances.

There are certainly many messages in here, but I reacted too strongly to the characters to consider them very deeply.  I'm glad I read the book, but I don't know that I enjoyed it.

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