|The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls|
The Glass Castle, in short and yet potent vignettes, reveals what has to be the most bizarre childhood of all time. Born to an artist and a dreamer, Jeannette and her three siblings find themselves living the barest of subsistence lifestyles. A good day is one on which they are feasting on green grapes and stardust.
On the move constantly, their lives are an alchemy of famine, fire, fleeing (doing the skedaddle), fairytales, and far-off fortune. One day, their father promises, just as soon as he perfects his invention, The Prospector, and finds gold, he is going to build them a glass castle in the desert. While Rex chases his elusive dreams, and their mother, Rose Mary, loses herself in her art, the children are left to fend for themselves.
What is it that makes this collection of stories so compelling? I asked myself this question over and over again as I began to draft this review. I mean, there are plenty of memoirs about dysfunctional families out there. What would make any of us want to immerse ourselves in another family's dysfunction? Don't we have enough of our own?
One reviewer surmised that it could be the same human nature that makes people slow down and gawk at a wreck that draws one into this memoir. Perhaps we can't help but stare at the scene of an accident.
Here's what I think. It is the fending the children did, and the odd ties that bind a family together, that make for compelling reading. I just had to stay by the side of Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen as they figured out how to survive each disaster. I just had to know how they moved beyond the kind of upbringing that would scar most children for life.
This is the kind of book that puts things in perspective for anyone who previously thought he or she had a tough childhood. It is also a memoir that reminds us of the amazing resilience of children. Thank heavens for that. I have a favorite quotation from the book that pretty much sums up the beauty of this memoir:
One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. 'You'd be destroying what makes it special,' she said. 'It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.'May you be reminded, in a healing way, of what has made you beautiful as you enter into this walk on the painful side of childhood. Here's to coming out on the other side.
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