The Glass Castle

Our book club's latest book was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Here's what Amazon has to say about it:
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
It seemed to me that everyone had already read this book but I had not and I was hesitant to do so.  You see, I grew up in Welch, West Virginia, (the dismal West Virginia mining town) where a large portion of this book is set and Rose Mary Walls was a teacher at my elementary school when I was in the second or third grade.  And I sort of expected a hatchet job.

It was weird reading about the town where I grew up.  About the streets and the stores that I knew or knew of.  The Miss Katona who was Jeannette's high school guidance counselor was my high school guidance counselor, too.

While I did not know the Walls children (who were too much older than me to have been my contemporaries) I did know of Rose Mary.  What I remember about her was how filthy she was.  Although everyone in West Virginia is sort of some level of 'poor', there is a certain level of poor that is remarkable and the Walls family is on that level.  I remember being sort of mesmerized by Rose Mary because I couldn't understand how a teacher could be so dirty, her clothes stained and tattered - she smelled.  I also remember her because she painted beautiful murals on the walls of our elementary school and I couldn't understand how someone with so much talent could be so poor.

Now having read the book, I have to say that I do not share Jeannette Walls' affection or generosity for her parents.  I cannot believe that these people took such poor care of their children while justifying their actions as teaching and growth opportunities.  They allowed their children to go hungry, to be molested, to be in danger, to be cold and unclean - all of which was unnecessary.  I lived in West Virginia back then - when coal was booming.  If Rex Walls wasn't working it's because he was a stomp down, sorry drunk.

I was very moved and inspired by Ms. Walls tenacity and the fervor that she and her siblings exhibited in order to escape the dismal life that their parents provided them.  But I cannot join her in feeling any sort of compassion or softness for her parents.  Shame on them.

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