Other people’s memories: “The Glass Castle”

“The Glass Castle” is one of those memoirs that really lives up to all of the hype. The writing manages to be both emotionally devastating and darkly humorous, not an easy task to pull off. If you have not read the book yet, I highly recommend it. Author Jeannette Walls recounts her most unusual childhood and the impact that those experiences have had on her adult life. There is no doubt that she and her siblings experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents who should never have been parents. But there are moments of genuine love buried in the narrative that have you pulling for a happy ending for this ragtag family.

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There are many memories that Jeannette Walls describes in exquisite detail that have stuck with me even years after reading the book. But as far as memoirs go, I think Jeannette Walls has earned the title for best first line ever:

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.

Wow. Just wow. How can you not keep reading with an opening like that?

That single memory really sums up the book quite well. Despite a nomadic, chaotic upbringing, the author has found some measure of success in the big city. Yet her parents, often stubbornly refusing help, continue to pop up in her life at the most inconvenient of times, reminding her of the damaged stock she came from. The author bravely reveals so much of herself through writing about the painful memories of her family’s struggles. It is not a book for the faint-hearted, but still, I think one of the lessons to be learned from the book is that there are rewarding moments to be found even in the direst of memories.

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