On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.
Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.
The Glass Castle also follows a very similar format to Angela’s Ashes with each short chapter detailing an episode from the childhood of the author. More often than not these are horrible snapshots of poverty or struggle as the Walls’ household disintegrates.
These grim anecdotes are broken up by some funny stories from Jeannette’s childhood and the reader is buoyed up by the loyalty of her three siblings as they try to support each other and overcome their parents’ shoddy upbringing.
Walls’ writing is very good and although the subject matter is depressing and unsettling, she wisely injects some humour to create some balance.
What interested me the most was the social dynamics within the Walls household. Jeannette and her three siblings all independently come to the conclusion that their parents are unfit to raise them and that they need to take matters into their own hands.
Writing a compelling memoir is difficult. I’ve read many autobiographies that tell the author’s life story chronologically and from a single perspective. That’s a totally fair and natural way to structure a narrative, especially since an omniscient narrator would be some trick, but it’s obviously also quite limiting.
But Walls – a long-time journalist and former blogger with MSNBC.com – does well to flesh out the “characters” of her family and imply the feelings and motivations of each relative. This adds depth to her story that most autobiographies lack. The way her parents and sibling handles each situation is unquestionably real.
Walls is also a reasonably fair and balanced narrator. Her family might not be thrilled with their personal histories being exposed, but it’d be hard for any member of the Walls clan to say that Jeannette did them a disservice. She lets their actions speak for themselves and rarely puts words in their mouths.
Normally I would dismiss the Glass Castle out of hand. But Walls’ incredible storytelling abilities and the devastating circumstances of her childhood make this memoir a must-read for any fan of literature.