The Glass Castle – Book Review
If there ever was a book that had me at hello, this would be it. In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ exact first words are, “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.” She’s headed to a swanky New York city party when she accidentally comes across her vagrant mother. In fact, both her parents are homeless. A unique pair of individuals who chose to live on the streets repelled by conventional standards and beliefs. Her story starts from the very beginning, as far back as she can remember. A fight with a fire in the desert. This is Jeannette’s adventure story. Her secret is out, and it’s good.
Jeannette’s father, Rex Walls, promises his children that one day they will build their very own glass castle. This castle not only comes to symbolize their hopeful future, but also seems to play a metaphor to the Walls’ way of life in many ways. A few words come to mind when I think of a glass castle- Irrational and transparent. For one thing, it can’t be safe. Glass is delicate and could shatter. It’s plain risky. And with the glass being clear, they’re completely exposed. There’s no discretion. Yet this is how the Walls lived.
They disregarded common practices, like maintaining a safe and clean home. They welcomed wild animals and bugs. Buzzards, lizards, and cockroaches with wings. They didn’t keep a steady job so most nights they were left nothing to eat but popcorn or sticks of butter for dinner. Their son had to sleep underneath a tarp most nights due to a hole in the roof. They packed and relocated at moments notice, to escape the law in various degrees. The Walls family of six, lived out of their cars, motel rooms, shacks, and abandoned railroad depots. Slept in cardboard boxes, bathed in the kitchen sink, and shared a communal bucket for a toilet. Their mother, a painter, writer, an adventurer didn’t believe in smothering her children with affection, rather, she gave them much freedom to promote independence, or to evade parental responsibilities. And their father, a self-acclaimed physicist, geologist, inventor, and alcoholic worked odd mysterious jobs in mining towns, and gambled. But there’s so much more.
Even so, the Walls did right by their children in many ways too. They inspired them to be academically passionate, brave, and culture love for the arts. Although they missed a lot of school, the parents influenced them to be avid readers, taught them math, dabbled in astrology, knew the names of rocks and stars, and fueled their imaginations exploring wildlife in the desserts. They encouraged them to fight, stick up for themselves and each other. And despite their living conditions, they were always optimistic. The Walls children proved to be thick skinned and surprisingly resistant to great pressure.
Jeannette’s story isn’t about how they overcame their less than privileged life, or how they attained material wealth or success, but evidence of strong family bonds devoid of all this. This extra stuff, the crap that stains and taints the glass. Obstructing and distracting a persons perspective of the world. When you strip the excess, all you’re left with is the foundation. Is that enough to make it? The Walls’ parents may seem a bit irrational but somehow, they see things very clear. Apparently, you don’t even need a roof to survive. All you need is each other. You don’t have to search very deep to know that this home is made out of love.
Another word just came to mind- Fortress. A stronghold. If I ever get a chance to meet Jeannette, I’ll say, Rex Walls has built a fine glass castle.