The problem with my book clubs both being based out of my hometown library is that we tend to read the same books from time to time. One book club read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls back in September of 2015 and my other one read it for our May selection. I didn’t reread the book so I did a lot of listening this time around.
A few people in our group had read the title when it first came out a few years ago, but most were reading it for the first time. It’s been a few years since Walls wrote the end of the book to tell us where her family was so our moderator looked it up for us. Walls and her husband live in Virginia and last was heard, her mother was living with them. No idea how long that lasted, but that was the update. Brian is a police officer in NYC with a wife and children. The oldest sister was illustrating children’s books. Not much is known about what’s going on with Maureen. She didn’t support writing the book and it seems Jeannette avoided talking about her problems as a sort of compromise. Brian read the book and had no problems with it, remembering a lot of the same events Jeannette did. Both her mother and older sister read the book eventually and it seems they had no problem with it. Jeannette feared that she would be rejected by her peers for writing the book. She felt that if they knew where she came from, no matter what they thought of her when reading it, they would no longer want to have anything to do with her.
Even though the Walls children suffered from neglect at the hands of their parents, there’s been evidence to suggest that children who are overindulged are more damaged than those who are deprived growing up. I can see how this would happen. Children in poverty learn resilience and confidence like the Walls children did. When faced with an obstacle, they learned how to fight it. Children who have everything handed to them don’t know how to solve their problems. I think the Walls children would have had a harder time keeping on par with their peers in the modern day. Technology is so integrated into the classroom and socialization that not having access to a computer can be detrimental. If they couldn’t get to a library to do homework, they would fall behind.
It felt like Rex and Rose Mary were the focus of our conversation. They seemed very cohesive and like they were on one team until they moved to West Virginia. It felt like Rex couldn’t live well in that town and it tore him away from the family. His alcoholism caused a lot of the financial problems in that family and he, like his wife, was a narcissist. Interestingly enough, what Jeannette says about her father being smart is true. There’s a physicist in our book club and he said that he was shocked when Rex started talking about thermodynamics because everything he was saying was scientifically accurate. Most of the parts about Rex were surprisingly positive seeing as he stole from his family. We wondered if, in light of his death, Jeannette didn’t want to say anything negative about her father.
We felt Rose Mary was more to blame for the family’s status. With Rex, it’s easy to say ‘Oh, he’s an alcoholic. We can’t expect him to act in his children’s best interest because he’s sick.’ It was harder with Rose Mary. We think she suffered from some kind of mental illness but her refusal to see a professional made it impossible to understand why she acted the way she did. While Rex let the kids down with his actions, they had no expectations of their mother for her to live up to so she was less of a disappointment. We think she might have been affected by the baby that didn’t survive, even though she says Rex was the one affected. The only smart thing she did was holding on to the $1,000,000 property in Texas. If she’d sold it or cashed in somehow, that money would have gone straight to Rex and the local bar.
The frustrating part of reading the book is that it’s so void of self-reflection and pity when the reader is feeling so much pity for Jeannette. The three oldest took care of each other, creating their own world where they could survive. Maureen was too young to join them. The oldest three recognized the bad situation they were in and got out. Once she moved away, it seemed Jeannette was very defensive about her upbringing. She would put her walls up when she was asked about it (like in her college course). Writing this book might have been very therapeutic and very difficult for her.
Our next book is another memoir, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’m already almost finished with it (#overachiever) and it will be a good talk.
Until next time, write on.