As an English Major, I seldom read as much as I want. Especially outside of assigned readings for class. So, when I bought The Glass Castle in the middle of last semester, I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it until Winter Break. Since reading memoirs is somewhat of a passion of mine, I waited for the last day of class, anxious to begin a book that a former professor had suggested for me. When, by midterms, I had finished half the book in a state of procrastination, I realized it was time to put it down and get back to my class work. The next weeks I spent waiting for finals to be over so I could finish it.
One of the most interesting facets of memoirs is their attention to a specific theme throughout the subject’s life. In Jeannette Walls’ book, The Glass Castle, poverty and ignorance seem to be at the forefront of what she is commenting on. But in the beginning she seems to be not so much commenting, but describing her life. Only later, in the last half of the book, does her voice become stronger with indignation. Walls’ memoir surprised me with its simple honesty and relatable home-life depictions of family. In a small way, I could relate to the poverty surrounding her family, but I could not imagine living in a room with a hole in the roof above my head and no running water inside the house. What I’ve just described is only one of the many surface problems she faced during her childhood. Other, deeper issues existed in her family. Her mother, an artist, could barely be bothered to get out of bed most days. Her father, very much an alcoholic, spent all of the income that the children were able to gather on drinking and “business ventures”, better known as poker games. When, in her late teens, she was able to escape the small town in West Virginia to New York City, she found life in the big city liberating. Several years later, the rest of her siblings joined her there. A few years later still, her parents decided to move there, but lacking the gumption to work for their keep, they were evicted and became homeless. The children took the parents in, one at a time, but eventually the parents took over their homes. The children were forced to offer an ultimatum: clean the place up, or move out. The parents moved out. Still later, the parents found an abandoned building to “squat” in, and lived there for the remainder of the book. In the last few chapters, Walls discovers that her mother owns incredibly valuable land in Texas, but will not sell it. The land was worth approximately one million dollars. Her parents chose to be homeless.
Walls shows how complicated family life can be. She shows how alcoholism can wreck an entire family, but she also shows how sympathetic degenerative relationships can be. Her book spurred on my passion for reading and writing memoirs, and gave me some valuable information on how a good memoir progresses.