Customer Reviews: The Glass Castle: A Memoir
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on January 26, 2007
The Glass Castle is a good read; it's well written and hard to put down. I essentially read it in one sitting.

My only issue lies in Walls' continually optimistic/positive tone despite the attrocities that she and her siblings were experiencing. I often felt that Walls was failing to express what should have been anger/outrage towards her parents. Her father, more often than not, was described as a gentle genius when he, in my estimation, was a selfish, abusive drunk.

Working in law enforcement, I have been in similar homes as described by Walls. I have interacted with the children and the families living amongst poverty and feces. My personal experiences dimished the impact of the book; I wasn't as shocked as others might have been. However, my personal experiences left me wondering why Walls didn't describe the smells and the emotional torture of her existence.

The Glass Castle was, in my opinion, heavily santized in order to maintain a more hopeful tone. That's where I failed to fully connect with Walls' abusive childhood.

Nonetheless, it's a good book.
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on March 14, 2005
I met Jeannette back when she first came to New York and I can attest that the book is a true account of what her life was like, at least to the degree I knew about it (obvoiusly many things were shielded from outside observers). So if there are any doubters, doubt no more.

As to the book itself, I'm biased but I think she did a great job. There may be one weakness but that's also one of the book's strengths, and that is that Jeannette does not judge. Time and again I would read passages that frustrated me because they would contain descriptions of her parents' crazy behavior without judgement added. I wanted Jeannette to tear into them for their mistreatment of their kids, but she does so only intermittantly and never as much as I would like. Which, of course, leaves the reader free to draw their own judgements without being being told what to think. Although this is sometimes frustrating, in the end I think it makes for a stonger book.
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VINE VOICEon September 18, 2005
There seems to be some doubt as to the veracity of Walls's memoir. It does seem as though certain situations are far too detailed to be credible rememberances of a 3-year-old or even a slightly older child. However, the book is an absorbing read, which is why I gave it three stars. No stars, even as birthday gifts, for the self-absorbed, sick parents who brought their children up in such a lazy, dangerous way (if Walls's account is true). A mother who hides candy from her starving children? Refuses treatment for her burned, blistered daughter? A father who throws the family cat out of a moving car but protests when a mountain lion is shot when it wanders too far into suburbia? Not to mention the lack of food, clothing, or a decent, safe home. These people are monsters, not as romantically described elsewhere as "free-spirited" and "gypsy-like." That Walls and her siblings were able to survive this childhood at all is a miracle. That Walls's description is matter-of-factly written and nonbitter is truly amazing and somewhat suspect. It saddens me that so many people think it's "wonderful" that the memoir lacks anger; I think Walls may have some of the denial ascribed to her parents. Parents who have no ability to put their child's needs before their own desires are just plain bad parents. If mental illness did indeed contribute to this situation, then shame on family and professionals who should have recognized this. Walls's childhood makes Augusten Burroughs's look positively idyllic.

Jennifer Lauck's "Blackbird" is a more realistic portrayal of a fractured family. I sobbed at her account of her mother's death, portrayed in a much more believable childhood way. I felt the same when when Walls's sister Lori finally gets the glasses she has needed for some time, and is awestruck at being able to see every leaf on the tree and not just a blur. Sort of analogous to the parents raising the children in blur, not realizing they might grow up to see how things really are.
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on September 26, 2007
Apparently, when you write a horrific account of your childhood and announce how wonderfully you've turned out it's considered rude behavior to question the memoir's veracity. I've seen many comments about Ms. Walls' ability to recall, with perfect clarity, the traumatic injuries to herself at the age of three. While, personally, I doubt her ability to recall her experience so thoroughly, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and allow that her memories are probably colored by what she recalls of the stories recounting the event. However, when her memories of later years are so obviously faulty, I found myself doubting everything and reading the book as though it were an anthologoy of stories and anecdotes collected from others.

She mentions living in Phoenix at the age of ten (and leaving for WV during that year) which would have been circa 1970, if she's truthful about her age in interviews. Her parents' adventures in Phoenix included, essentially, bank robbery via simultaneous teller withdrawals and ATM withdrawals, but ATMs were not widely installed in the U.S. until 1973. She also mentioned playing at the tennis courts of Phoenix University, though there is no such place and Phoenix College was not in their neighborhood. Phoenix Union High School is a possibility, as it was only a few blocks east of their street. The Civic Center (which was built between 1969 and 1972) has never housed a library, as the Central Library was only a few miles down the road on McDowell and Central, sharing a property with the Phoenix Art Museum.

While all these discrepancies can be put down to the typical transformation that occurs when time and distance have had their way with a memory, how can we then believe that everything else is exactly as described? It leads me back to the idea that much of the story is a series of collected anecdotes built around the framework of a dysfunctional family with mentally ill parents and emotionally disconnected children.

Others commented that they found it confusing, disturbing or admirable that the author held no bitterness or anger toward her parents and read no anger into the story itself. I found this to be symptomatic of a complete lack of emotion in the entire effort. It's as if it were written in a void of emotion.

I read an interview with the author in which she said she'd tried to write from the perspective of the child she was but any child would have been asking the question, "Why?" at every turn of event described in this book. Even with the mind of a genius it would be impossible for a child of three to rationalize the neglect that led to skin grafts by saying that boiling hot dogs is easy.

It reeks of a boastful attitude, as if to say, "Look at me! Look how horrible my life was and how well I did despite that!" She regularly mentions how gifted and well-educated she and her siblings were yet she glosses over the "how" of it. For someone with such a photographic memory, I'd expect a more concrete telling of the "homeschooling" they received at the hands of their parents.

As someone who had a terrible childhood and survived it, I feel as though she's taken that experience and trivialized it. She's allowed her parents to abdicate their responsibility for their children and credited them with creating vibrant, talented adults which leaves the rest of us wondering what people will think when we refuse to allow our toxic parents into our lives and the lives of our children. She makes it seem as though it's easy to forget about abuse and embrace the abusers as flawed but perfect embodiments of themselves. I can't help but think that she's holding back a great deal which doesn't do much to endorse a "Memoir."
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on July 7, 2007
This is one heck of a monotonous, tedious book. Every chapter details another instance of how the author's alcoholic father and enabling, mentally absent mother neglected/abused/failed their kids, and paints the behavior as kooky and endearing. The book lacks both immediacy in the telling *and* the clarity of hindsight and evolution of critical thought that makes for a satisfying memoir. It's simply a laundry list of bad parenting, told through rose-colored glasses via clunky prose.

I wish reviewers would have the chutzpah to be less than blindly effusive in their praise just because the subject matter is <gasp> sensitive.
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on November 1, 2005
I cringe to hear descriptions of Walls' parents as "eccentric."
The apt term is criminally negligent, and you can't help but wonder what Walls wants us to feel about them after relating the chaotic childhood that she and her siblings barely survive. Her alcoholic father was supposedly "brilliant" yet he never appears in these pages as anything other than a garden variety lush. He steals money from his kids to drink, disappears for days, takes his 13-year-old daughter to a bar to lure pool pigeons. An alkie is an alkie, and any insightful person tries very hard to understand that there is nothing distinguished about them. Her mother sounds bipolar, but in any case is relentlessly childish, selfish, and neglectful, never even registering that her kids are hungry although there is no food in the refrigerator for days. Eccentric mom is perfectly capable of getting a good job teaching, but this is beneath her. Walls almost dies on more than one occasion because mummy dearest is painting....(pictures, not walls). Yeah, these two are so endearingly quirky, aren't they. The title of this memoir refers to the dream house and engineering marvel that her father is going to build for them. When the kids finally try, in desperation, to manifest this promised fantasy by digging a hole for the foundation, her parents quickly fill it up with garbage. They subsequently become known in the small town where they live as the kids "who live in garbage."

What is troubling about Walls' narrative is her insistence of how Daddy loved her soo much, and soo specially. Her parent's narcissist neglect included a self-serving spin on how the kiddies should perceive their abuse as character-building. We learn little of what effect it has on the adult Walls to revisit a childhood of living with her parent's garbage, other than suffering pangs of embarassment over her mother's chronic dumpster diving. All's well that ends well? fogeddaboutit!?.
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on November 30, 2009

Okay, I have studied memoir writing and understand that even the most true-to-form autobiographer needs to embellish to a certain point. You may remember a meaningful or traumatic event from your childhood, or even adulthood, but it is not possible to recount every specific detail and each word of conversation needed to convey a compelling narrative. At some point, you need to fill in the blanks. It doesn't mean that the essence of the story is untrue. In some cases, such as James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," the embellishment strays into complete fiction, and that is inexcusable. Some of the tales related in "The Glass Castle" smack of that kind of fabrication. (Sorry, no way I believe that a three-year-old, however bright, remembers conversational interchanges, the nature of adult expressions, or specific details about setting some forty years later.) But I'm willing to give Walls the benefit of the doubt until evidence surfaces to the contrary. Only she and her family know the truth.

That being said, my criticism of this book lies in the relentless procession of tribulations endured by the author and her family. This is literally one bleak, mournful story of neglect, poverty, and suffering after another. It is very much in the vein of "Angela's Ashes," where, just when you couldn't imagine anyone suffering a more degrading humiliation, something else comes along to prove you wrong. "The Glass Castle" is the story of monumental parental dysfunction and the writer's struggles to overcome it. Which is fine, as long as you're not expecting insight or exposition, just stories about eating out of the garbage and living without heat or plumbing.

Several of the tales did strain believability. The one that stuck out most for me was the story about the children saving money in a piggy bank to help fund the eldest child's escape from the squalid home in which they were living. The children are older at this point, and have long since come to understand that their dad is a degenerate alcoholic who has little compunction about stealing what he needs to satisfy his addictions. And yet, these supposedly "gifted" children leave a piggy bank filled with cash in plain view of their reprobate father, then profess anger and disappointment when he steals the money. Huh? The author sets up a number of scenarios in the same manner; telegraphing the outcome and then inviting the reader to be astonished by it.

Many reviewers have saluted Jeanette Walls for not being analytical or judgmental of her parents' behaviors. I disagree entirely. With virtually every episode, her rendering of the family's dire predicament is underscored by a palpable subtext that makes it obvious that she believed all along that her parents were capable of providing a better life but had intentionally chosen not to. That may be a perfectly valid assessment, but it is a judgment nonetheless, given that she was the beneficiary of their atrocious decisions.

Bottom line: If stories about the downtrodden, the poverty-stricken, the dysfunctional, and the destitute appeal to you, then you will very likely relate to "The Glass Castle." It fairly oozes anguish and misery. It's not a bad book, but it's not a great book either.
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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2007
If you think you had a rough childhood, think again! In "The Glass Castle," author Jeannette Walls chronicles the story of her upbringing. Jeannette and her three siblings were raised by Rex and Rose Mary Walls, two very strange parents who would constantly pack up their children at a moment's notice and do the "skedaddle" right out of town. Rose Mary is an aspiring artist and chronic optimist who always turns a blind eye to Rex's alcoholic (and sometimes abusive) ways. Neither of the Walls parents manages to hold down a job for very long, and they don't really see anything wrong with that. Instead, the entire family is used to eating sticks of margarine for dinner (if they are lucky enough to eat anything at all), owning only two or three different outfits at a time, and hightailing it to the next town every time Rex manages to screw something up.

Things go from bad to worse for this family. They eventually end up living in Welch, a small town in West Virginia where Rex is originally from. Rex's horrifying mother, Erma, ultimately sheds some light on why Rex is the way he is, and the Walls family winds up in a three-room shack on the outskirts of town. The house doesn't have indoor plumbing, so an outhouse has to suffice. The family can't even afford garbage pickup, so they pitch all their trash into a hole in the backyard. Jeannette is determined to get away from her family once and for all, but no one (especially Rex) makes escaping any easier for her.

"The Glass Castle" is so interesting because Jeannette offers such a non-judgmental view of the horrors of her childhood. Although it's quite obvious to the reader just how screwed up this family situation is, Walls genuinely loves both of her parents and manages to highlight all of their good qualities as well. By the end of the novel, Jeannette manages to come to terms with her parents and accept them for who they are. I don't think I would have been nearly as forgiving as she was, but I still admire the love and devotion she shows for her family.

This is one of those books that you won't be able to put down once you start reading...I finished it in two days! "The Glass Castle" is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. Pick it up today!
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on May 17, 2007
This book wasn't what I had expected. I found myself wishing that the author, whom survives a childhood of turmoil, chaos, and poverty, should have been more honest with the reader regarding her feelings of what one could only assume would be remorse and bitterness towards her family. There are several upsetting events that take place in her life, many at a very young age, including sexual violation, and it is extremely disturbing that her parents seem to handle it with very little regard for their daughter, in most cases see it as her overreacting. I was hoping for a little more honesty than I found, possibly something more like Running With Scissors. Perhaps though, the author has come to terms with her past and with her family and decided to accept people as they are and to let the past be the past. Still, the question remains - where was the emotion in Jeannette Walls? After going through such emotional trauma, one does not just come out of it unscathed.
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VINE VOICEon September 12, 2007
Let me once again say...
That just because I didn't like this book doesn't mean that you won't love it. Please take my opinion combined with yours and decide if this would be a book that you might like to read. And then please don't criticize me because we disagree, that's not the point of reviewing books here.

There is much that can be said about Jeannette Walls' memoir. I unfortunately did not enjoy reading her story. It was depressing to think about the horrors Jeannette and her siblings suffered growing up and sad to think about the many others enduring similar situations now. I wish that people who are critical of public welfare would read this account and think about what a difference it could have made to this family.

I thought it was heartbreaking that not one adult person tried to make a difference in lives of this family. Or maybe someone did try and she didn't include it in her account? They went to church and school and not one person tried to help? I thought that was almost sadder than all of the suffering that she and her siblings endured at the hands of her completely unbalanced parents.

I thought she painted a vivid picture of the power that alcoholism and mental illness have to ruin people's lives. I wonder if her mother is Bipolar and has OCD? And was her father just a crazy drunk or was he crazy sober?

I believed Jeannette Wall's account of her parents and their insane behavior but I had a hard time believing that there were so many other crazy people in her life outside of her family. I realize this is a memoir and that means that this is what she remembers and how she remembers people. But I had a hard time believing that the teacher came to school with a shotgun to motivate her students? and that the neighbor boy shot at them with a bb gun through the windows? and the gypsies threw a dead chicken on their doorstep? and then a second boy shot at her and her brother with a shotgun?... That's quite a lot to experience alone with out the insanity of her family. It just made me wonder about the accuracy of the events.

And I thought that she told her story in a somewhat flat and unemotional way, rarely offering insights into what was going through her mind while she endured the craziness of her life.

Jeannette Walls has my empathy and admiration as a person, I wish her nothing but success in her life. Unfortunately I didn't care for her book.
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