Book Review- The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Jeanette Walls , a successful gossip columnist recounts her dysfunctional family life and childhood in this book . Her memory of her childhood is detailed and extensive .Typically as memoirs go , they are capable of evoking either a deep sense of respect /empathy or a sense of disappointment. When I finished reading this book I could only feel an overwhelming sense of outrage at the parents and was sorry for the lost childhood .

She and her three siblings — older sister, Lori; younger brother, Brian; and baby sister, Maureen — live in numerous desert towns where their father, Rex, does odd jobs. Rex is an alcoholic, mired in debts ,unable to hold onto a steady job .Their mother Rosa is a self-proclaimed excitement addict and artiste . She considers her writing and painting to be above and beyond her parenting duties. Both parents are textbook cases of neglectful parenting .In fact , at certain points, the profound  irresponsibility documented  made me go back and check if it was not a fictional account and was truly a memoir , because such irresponsible parenting was simply unbelievable !

“Pursued by debt collectors , the family made a getaway so hasty that Rex  felt compelled to toss Jeannette’s recalcitrant cat out the car window. Bitten by a scorpion, 4-year-old Lori suffered convulsions. Accidentally hurtled from the family station wagon onto a railroad embankment, Jeannette had to wait in the desert sun until her parents realized she was missing; while she scraped off the blood, her father plucked pebbles out of her face with pliers”

Children were encouraged to view these episodes of absolute , willful parenting failures as a glorious adventure !The litany of parenting misadventures is numerous and  appalling , without any admission of remorse on the parents part .

We are all profoundly flawed and chipped and broken , yet we still try to do our best for our kids .Which was why I was simply unable to assimilate such intentional neglect . Behind the veneer of a pseudo –bohemian lifestyle was just a distressing fable of failed parenthood . The children forced to fend for themselves ,foraging through dustbins at school for lunch , suffering sexual abuse at the hands of strangers ,were stuck with 2 inept adults who were most unsuitable for parenting. After my outrage at the parents had subsided, what also struck me was that despite such a dysfunctional upbringing all the 3 siblings went onto lead fairly respectable lives themselves . The deeply damaging childhood had only emboldened them and strengthened their resolve to build a life as different as possible from the one they left behind .

It’s a compelling memoir no doubt . What stands out is that nowhere has the author asked for sympathy for her dysfunctional family life .The author’s refusal to theorise , justify or vilify her parent’s behavior is the cornerstone of this book . It is just a balanced account of an imbalanced family . An honest retelling of her childhood  sans the theatrics and the gaudy embellishments .

Recommend reading

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