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book review: "The Glass Castle"...

Monday, January 16, 2017
...by Jeannette Walls. The cover announces she is a New York Times Bestselling author, having also published "Half Broke Horses". I am pretty sure I randomly picked up the "Horses" book at the library, to read myself to sleep every night. Sorry - not reviewed here.

"The Glass Castle" refers to plans the author's dad drew up to build a fanciful home for his family, of wife and four children. After reading the book over a couple of weeks, my first thought is of  how astounding and amazing that Walls survived such dysfunction to escape as a teenager and grow into a gifted young adult news reporter and writer. Her dad was an engineer and inventor, always scheming, making plans for financial success that never came to fruition. He was also an alcoholic, using money they needed for rent, utilities, food, to feed his desire for drink. Her mother was a artist, part of the family, but did not function as a caregiver, assertive or forceful enough to stand up to her husband.

The stories she tells of how her mother and siblings struggled when the children were young are literally unbelievable. They were not seriously abused, physically. But the trauma they went through due to poverty is so heart-wrenching it is difficult to accept as anything that would really occur in a place where there are so many social service programs that would provide assistance. Just the little things she reports in her story: a brother who slept on the top bunk in a room where the roof leaked so badly he had to sleep under a tarp. Until her mom won an inflatable boat in a contest, and the brother began sleeping under the overturned boat to stay dry at night.

Digging a big hole with her brother (that they thought might be for the foundation of a newer, sturdier, well-built home) and eventually filling it with their household garbage when they could not pay for trash pick-up. Wearing all your clothes to bed to stay warm, in a un-insulated home with no heat in a sad, shabby, falling down house in the mountains of West Virginia. Walking down the street with a bucket to pick up mined coal that as fallen off trucks to feed a fireplace. The dad breaking into the kids communal piggy bank and stealing all their escape funds, and using the money to go on a bender. When the front steps rotted away, and porch began to collapse, leaving and entering the house through a window - every day. Digging through the trash cans in the bathroom in high school to find food thrown away by other students to eat for lunch.

The siblings eventually were able to get out of that depressing, disturbing discouraging environment, and one by one moved from West Virginia to New York. And then their parents relocated, but chose to live on the streets. Walls is an excellent story-teller, in this book written as a memoir. Difficult to believe that they survived such a sad, hard-scrabble youth and, once away from the parents, and were able to succeed to become capable productive adults.

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