Review by Jessica Dall
There are a few reasons “normal” people don’t tend to write memoirs. Politicians and actors might have a lot to say, but life often isn’t interesting to read about for the rest of us. Jeannette Walls doesn’t have that problem, the stories of her childhood are enough to make for a funny, heart wrenching, gripping story that nearly goes to prove that real life can be even more interesting than fiction.
With parents described as “idealist and stubborn nonconformist,” Jeannette and her three siblings grow up as nomads, moving across the Southwest, learning from their brilliant, if alcoholic, father, and artist mother. Both parents unable to hold a job, The Glass Castle follows Jeannette’s life—from age three to adulthood—as she does her best to deal with all the joys and struggles that comes with trying to hold a completely dysfunctional family together.
Starting the book, it’s hard to believe that people like Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary, actually exist. Jeannette’s clear memories of the earlier events of her childhood just don’t seem plausible. Reading further, however, you begin to realize exactly how real these people are.
A journalist by trade, Jeannette’s writing is to the point, written in short, to the point sentences that are unsurprisingly reminiscent of feature articles. Being so direct, it would be easy for the story to go by quickly without drawing the reader in. However, The Glass Castle skillfully skirts that hurdle. The quick, journalistic writing not only draws people into the stories, but also paints brilliant visuals of the small desert town they end up in, or the small house in New Mexico, or the old coal-mining town in Appalachia. Jeannette uses language in a way that makes for a quick, but entirely engaging read.
Furthermore, with such a hard life, it would have been easy to either fall into the role of the victim or at least blame others—at least her parents—for such difficult childhood, but Jeannette instead provides a genuine, amazingly well-balanced picture that adds to the level of reality the reader gets while moving through her life. Her parents aren’t painted as demons, even in the worst moments, and Jeannette isn’t made an angel that is unfortunately dragged along for the ride unable to take arms against her own life. Without knowing them, it is easy to believe you know the Walls family for as they really are, just through Jeannette’s superb writing.
For anyone looking for a funny, emotional, thoroughly engaging read, I would highly suggest picking up The Glass Castle. It is a wonderfully written glimpse of a life very few have experienced, accessible to readers from all walks of life.