Parenting at its worst
There’s nothing quite like reading a book with some truly horrific family situations to make you feel like a stellar parent. I don’t often read books like this to build up my motherhood self-esteem, since mostly it just makes me sad, but when books are recommended highly enough by people I trust, I do it anyway.
Jeannette Walls’ book, The Glass Castle, is a memoir of her highly unconventional childhood. Born in the 60’s to hippie parents, her father constantly uprooted their family and couldn’t hold down a steady job thanks to his drinking and paranoia. Her mother was an artist, though it’s unclear whether or not she had any talent, and seemed to have reconciled herself to having a shiftless husband and a bunch of kids she had no interest in. The kids are left to their own devices, including feeding themselves, which meant often going hungry thanks to never having any money and their father being too proud to accept government assistance.
The time the Walls spent out west seemed almost like a grand adventure and the kids seemed happy despite their bizarre life. When they became broke and desperate enough to move back to West Virginia and live with Jeanette’s father’s family, the story quickly turned dark. Part of this is due to Jeannette getting older and realizing how irresponsible and unstable her parents are. Her mother flatly refuses to get a job despite the fact that her father never will, ever. Nor will she even consider divorce. There are four kids in this family and each of them is more aware of the desperate situation they are in then the parents are. Her father is always working some angle, gambling or drinking away what little cash he has. Jeannette is able to forgive and love her father despite so many of his faults, but when he uses her as bait to work a con on a gambling partner, that changes things permanently for her.
Jeannette and her siblings learn how to cope, work hard, and get by with only each other’s help. Their youngest sister is taken in my neighbors and friends, so she is buffered from so much of the harshness of the situation. When the kids realize that the only escape is to get out, they start making plans.
The way Walls’ tells her stories and memories was riveting, but it was like watching a car accident. You can’t look away even though you know it’s going to be horrible, terrifying and probably scar you for life. I kept wondering how she remembered these events with such clarity, but I’m not going to get all picky and wonder if parts were made up. Honestly, if her childhood was only half as bad as she portrayed it, this woman still deserves every penny she made off her book.
The title is in reference to her father’s plans to build a glass castle for them to live in, something beautiful and energy efficient and perfectly engineered. His faults were plentiful, but he was a very smart man. It’s the perfect title, though, because it’s about unrealized dreams and expectations. It nearly broke my heart to read it, but it did give me an appreciation for my good parents.
I read Uncle Orson Reviews Everything regularly and I love it when he actually reviews books instead of orange juice and office chairs. He might be a curmudgeon, but he does have excellent taste in books. He recommended a list of books to be given as gifts and I immediately hopped onto my library’s website to try them out. If he’s buying these books to give as presents, I thought, they’re going to be good. One of them was I’ll Be There For You by Holly Goldberg Sloan and stars another family in crisis. When I went to Sloan’s website to jog my memory about some of the characters’ names, I thought the synopsis for the book was perfect. I’ll just let you scoot on over and read it instead of re-wording it here. Yes, I am that lazy.
I loved this book, but my big complaint is that it read like a screenplay. Well, Sloan writes screenplays for a living, so that’s no big surprise. I can’t help but think if she didn’t have a background in film that this story could have been told better. It’s beautiful, suspenseful and full of sorrow, but the pacing felt like a film and the characters seemed like she already had the actors picked out in her mind that would play them perfectly. I don’t know about you, but if a book is comes across like it’s been written for the express purpose of being turned into a movie (I’m lookin’ at you, Dan Brown), it’s just not as good. If you can get past that and just enjoy the story, then you’re in for a treat. It’s a great story with a vicious villain and an empathetic hero.
Writing this review makes me not feel quite so guilty about lecturing my dawdling daughters this morning. Sheesh, at least I feed them and love them, unlike the parents in these books! They got nothin’ to complain about! Too bad these books are way too mature for them to read yet and appreciate how good they have it.