Sunday, November 16, 2008

Escaping Dysfunction

Jeannette Walls was, until recently, a writer for What many people did not know, until Jeannette Walls wrote “The Glass Castle”, a memoir of her childhood, was that Ms. Walls came from a nomadic, dysfunctional family. Her parents Rex and Rose Mary Walls were eccentric and shiftless, at best. Rex was a brilliant, charming man who could not hold a job because he had “a little bit of a drinking situation”. Rose Mary, a self proclaimed “excitement addict”, declared that “cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever”. And paint she did, while her four children had to fend for themselves. When three old Jeannette was attempting to cook hotdogs, her tutu like dress caught fire and she was so severely burned that she spent six weeks in the hospital and received skin grafts.

As the family moved, like nomads, through the southwest desert, Rex Wall promised his children that he would build them the “glass castle” the he had carefully designed and drafted. But as we read about these hapless children, the antics of the parents become infuriating. When Jeannette falls out of the backseat of one of their dilapidated cars the parents don’t even notice or respond to the screams of the other children. Jeannette had to sit on the side of the road, bruised and bloodied, until her parents realized she was missing. The family lands in Arizona in a house that Rose Mary’s mother owns, but when dad loses yet another job and the family is out of money or ideas they decide to return to Rex’s home town. It is the depressed and depressing town of Welch, West Virginia. We quickly understand why Rex never wanted to return. His family is unbelievably dysfunctional and weird. Jeannette and her family lived in a house with no bathroom, no heat and a roof that leaked. But, wherever the Walls children landed, they went to school and they thrived. Returning to Welch leads Rex Walls to drink himself to oblivion. Jeannette and her siblings learned how to survive and made plans to escape.

“The Glass Castle” is a story that proves that children are resilient and that regardless of the circumstances, children love their parents. At times it is very difficult to read about these people who should never have been parents, yet Jeannette Walls is able to write this story with a deep feeling of affection and understanding of her parents. Perhaps she is able to do so because what little they did give to her and her siblings, it was enough to give them the determination to break away from the poverty and dysfunction, and build a future for themselves.

Jeannette Walls has written a very good memoir with wonderful details, humor and pathos. It is a story that will leave you with the good feeling that people can overcome adversity and when they do, you can’t help wanting to cheer for them.

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