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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