Book Review: The Glass Castle


This was a tough read. I’m not the first to say that, and maybe not even the first person to begin their review with that exact sentence. And looking at the other reviews, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is fairly polarizing, even to people who like it (and they are minion). “It was well written” “It was sparsely written.” “She loved and sympathized with her parents.” “She wrote without any emotion at all.” “It’s a factual reality.” “It was clearly exaggerated.” Oh, bother.

For me, this book came at the wrong time and as the beginning of an inadvertent foray into similarly depressing childhood stories. It’s been a few months, and it still sits in my mind. So it’s memorable: there’s that. But for me, it’s difficult—or perhaps impossible—to separate the story from the memoir, here. It’s like I can’t just rate the read, but also have this gut-level reaction to what the book contains, narratively. I hate family dysfunction at this level, no matter how redeeming in the end or how forgiving the children may be. I hate what happened to Jeannette for her, which might be part of the point of the book. I’m not sure, because I’m not exactly sure what the point of the book is except to get it off her chest and make money in the process (which I’m not judging, by the way).

I know we’re in the age of villain-empathy (which I wrote about years ago HERE). But there is a point. This really happened and it’s painful to read because I love children and I instinctively want to save and protect them. In fact, I love people, and to read about another person treating a human in the way Jeannette was treated by her incompetent, broken, and terrible parents (and other neighbors, etc.) is just plain upsetting. I don’t have much sympathy left, by the end, if any. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. They were given enough chances to whip a decent life together, just look at their kids. I’m certainly glad I’m not starting from their messed up amalgam of problems (bipolar, alcoholism, childhood abuse and more) and habits (narcissism, bizarre child-rearing theories, etc.), but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I’ve been proud, all my life, of people I know who have risen above their circumstances, like Jeannette, and at some point villain empathy ends and social justice steps in (thank God!). When everyone has their own truth, is justice becoming a four-letter word? Let’s hope not. Part of the pathos of this story is that no one stepped in to exact justice on behalf of the children. Not their teachers. Not their neighbors. Nobody.

Which is a lot to put on this one memoir. The degradation of truth and morals in modern society is, it turns out, not all on Jeannette Walls’ shoulders. And in the end, this memoir gets great reviews. I dare say it’s even changed some lives and certainly will continue to populate book club lists for years to come. It’s interesting (although often in a morbid sense). It’s engaging. It is memorable and the characters are memorable. It is instructive, in that it is a memoir and kids really can go this under the radar in modern America. Most people claim it is a page-turner (though I was so disgusted by what was happening to these kids that I sometimes wanted to do anything but keep reading it). It was not gratuitous or graphic. There was clearly an attempt at reporting on the good, great, and beautiful as well as the tragic and deplorable. The language was clear and concise. The narration was straight-forward and event-packed, though it was not shaped into a more novel-esque story.  As another reviewer said, it reads like journalism because Jeannette is a journalist and essentially this is journalism.

I would not discourage anyone from reading The Glass Castle unless they were struggling with depression. I dare say I may even recommend it to people through the years, as it promises to be a book I won’t soon forget. I have no idea if I should give it three stars or four (which would mean adding it to my recommends on The Starving Artist) and writing the review hasn’t helped me any. Some scenes were brutal. Some scenes will stick with me for a long time. I can even imagine re-reading it as a sort of research. But I won’t be running back to it or enjoying it, really.



THE GLASS CASTLE MOVIEI don’t know if I can handle this movie right now. It does look good, though. If I get around to it soon, I’ll give ya’ll a review. Just know that the movie is out there and it’s supposed to be pretty decent.


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