The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls I saw one reviewer call this a West Virginia version of McCourt's Angela's Ashes. As far as I'm concerned, it's far better. I didn't care for McCourt's faux James Joyce prose style and often found myself skeptical about his tales. I never felt that way about Walls' story, even though this is written with the detail of a novel and the antics of her parents left me torn between shaking my head and going head desk. Maybe it's that Walls came across as so good-humored, so matter of fact about her childhood without evident bitterness or self-pity. At times she almost made their madcap nomad life sound fun, even as I was amazed the children survived and fervently hoped for their escape from this life. Her parents were so brilliant--both of them, but neither could take care of themselves, let alone four children. Rex Walls, the father, was an alcoholic. Like McCourt's father, he could be charming and violent in turn and wasted what little money the family could earn or steal in drunken binges. The mother, Rose Mary, never had anything stronger than tea, but she was if anything even more maddening--and mad. There is a dark humor in the book at times, but one pitch black. For instance, Rose Mary did hold a teacher's certificate, and sporadically worked as one. The eldest child, Lori, was a student in her class at one point and got paddled as a demonstration to her supervisor that Rose Mary could discipline her class. "Were you acting up?" I asked Lori when I heard of the whipping. "No," Lori said. "Then why would Mom paddle you?" "She had to punish someone, and she didn't want to upset the other kids." Rose Mary Walls reminded me a lot of the mother in another memoir I had just read by Rachel Reichl, Tender at the Bone. Reichl's mother was a diagnosed manic-depressive. But what made all the difference for Reichl was that she had other sane adults in her life--including her father. So even though Reichl's mother might have been a trial, what resulted was more comedy than tragedy. The Walls children weren't anywhere near as lucky. At the age Reichl was sampling gourmet brie, Walls was scrounging in garbage bins for something to eat. Yet Walls' book somehow escaped being depressing, and despite it all you feel she still loved her parents. It was a riveting read; I read it in a few hours in one sitting. But it's not fast food: I think this one I'll remember a long time.