Monthly Archives: February 2014

Book Opinion: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Homelessness and extreme poverty are a problem where ever there are people. In our modern times the hows and whys of both have been debated endlessly. Fingers are pointed, politicians, corporations, heartless right wingers, teachers and just about every other group you can think of have been blamed. Getting out of such conditions has been deemed next to impossible and governments the world over have bankrupted their countries with social programs designed to “rescue” the homeless and the poor. All, apparently, to no avail because there are still millions of homeless and poor people all over the world.

/The Glass Castle/ addresses these topics and may cause you too look at these issues from a different point of view. The Walls family, Rex and Rose Mary and their four children are the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Neither parent is ever regularly employed for any length of time. They roam like nomads all over the American southwest living in dusty, dying little towns in whatever housing they can find. They regularly leave behind everything in the middle of the night to escape debt collectors or children’s services. Having a steady supply of the basics of life, including food seldom happens.

As the children grow older, they start trying to fill the responsibility void left by their parents, but it is hopeless. Their parents want to be outside the norm of society. They are negative about every social convention that makes life comfortable for everyone else. Rose Mary is an artist, and finds money for canvases and paint when her children have no food. When her kids talk her into using her teaching degree to work and get them food and clothing, they have to make her go to work and they grade papers and fill out forms for her. The teaching jobs never last long, because even schools in dried up, dying desert towns want teachers who actually work. Rex is even worse. He is a brilliant man with a variety of ideas that he promises to work on, but never does. He is a desperate alcoholic who’s brilliance shines less and less as he gets drunker and drunker. His brushes with sobriety never last and make the drunk spells even sadder, because you realize that if he’d stop drinking, he could do so much.

The family’s situation gets so bad that they eventually make it across the country to the dismal mining town in West Virginia where Rex grew up. The landscape, the people, his family and the elements do not make their situation better. As the children get older, they begin to separate from their family; they develop plans to get out and make actual lives for themselves. During conversations with their parents, especially as they get older, they truly come to realize that their parents have chosen to live the way they do. They have no desire to live in a different way. They do not want to change their circumstances. There is not one thing that their children, or social workers of any kind or the government can do to make them change.

There is a beautiful wedding photo of Rex and Rose Mary at the beginning of the book. They look like any other newly married couple you’ve seen, beautiful and full of promise. There is no clue in that picture of the way they will choose to live their lives and raise their children. It’s a little sad really, to look at it after you’ve read the book.

/The Glass Castle/ is a well written memoir that illustrates all too clearly some hot button issues in society, and a very different way of looking at them. Most people who are homeless and/or profoundly poor, want to be anything else, but I now know that there ARE some people who for whatever reason, CHOOSE to live in a way that I cannot imagine. It also reminds us that no matter how desperate your situation may be, if you have the desire to change your life you can. It won’t necessarily be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but it CAN be done. This book is incredibly interesting, and frustrating and infuriating, but it’s great.

Have a great day and READ something 🙂

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Book Opinion: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

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When I was a teenager, my Mom and Dad and I went to Florida several times on vacation. We always drove and we always stopped at the Quality Inn in Valdosta, Georgia on the way down. This hotel screamed “The South” to me; plantation shutters, beautiful gardens, a pool that I loved and a small-ish, original to the property house all graced the place. We ALWAYS ate dinner at the Ho-Jo’s across the street then came back and my Mom and I would wander the grounds before my solo swimming sessions at the pool. Mom would sit there and watch me swim “in case something happened” but she would’ve not been much help if something HAD happened because she couldn’t swim. My Dad would usually stay in the room smoking and watching t.v.

Even though we always only stayed there one night because we were just passing through, I loved that place. I entertained some of my most vivid Gone With the Wind fantasies inside my head as my Mom and I walked the grounds. I kept waiting for Rhett Butler to come around a bend and fall in love with me, and beautiful girls in hoop skirts to be flirting with handsome boys at a barbeque on the lawn. I loved it so much that when I grew up, I wanted to stop there with MY family, so one year when my daughter was little, we got off the highway and went to the hotel. It was some other chain by then, but the plantation shutters, gardens, pool and house were still there. They were shabbier than they had been and I realized that the property was literally RIGHT next to the highway. When I was a child, the grounds had been so lush that you couldn’t SEE the highway, so I had no idea. It was a little chilly, so we couldn’t get in the pool, which was disappointing, and if it had been warm, I would never have let my baby in it anyway because it wasn’t really clean and THAT was disappointing. The Ho-Jo’s was gone as were Rhett and the rest of the gang and THAT was disappointing. The whole experience left me feeling let down and I was glad to leave the next morning. The only way I’ll ever go back is if I win the Power Ball and go buy it and return it to it’s former glory, so when I heard about Sarah Addison Allen’s new book Lost Lake, I felt that I might be able to relate.

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors. I have all of her books and I love them all. They are all lyrical, and a little magical. One of her books has a protagonist who enchants with her baked goods, another book has mysterious lights in a garden. They are lovely, beautiful stories, and Lost Lake is no different.

Kate is a young widow with a daughter named Devin, and a mother-in-law named Cricket. After the loss of her husband, Kate “goes to sleep” for a year. When she finally snaps out of it just as she is about to take her daughter and move in with Cricket, she finds a postcard from her great-aunt Eby who owns a lake resort in southern Georgia. Eby is the last relative Kate has, and on a whim, Kate decides to load Devin into the car and drive down to visit Eby who she had only met once, when as a child, she and her family had spent several weeks at Lost Lake.

When Kate arrives at the lake, it is obvious that time has taken it’s toll. The property has fallen into disrepair, the guests who summered there for years are aging out of coming back, and Eby has decided to sell and retire. During the course of her visit, Kate reconnects with people she met before as well as meets a whole new cast of characters. Without giving too much away, there is a mute French woman, a ghost in a chair, a ghost alligator, a mystery, and a lovely man to occupy her time.

Lost Lake is a beautiful story about families, new beginnings, endings, tying up loose ends, grief in many of it’s forms, forgiveness, understanding, letting go of the past and embracing the future. You can’t go home again, but you CAN use your past to make your life move forward. Sometimes ghosts can help you learn how to go on. I enjoyed reading this book in the middle of winter, because it transported me to summer; to cool drinks by the water, lanterns in the trees and dancing in the moonlight. Thank you Sarah Addison Allen for giving me another beautiful story to think about and another book to add to my stack. It’s a keeper.

Have a great day and read a great book 🙂