Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls (audio)



There haven't been many times when I can say that a book turned me into a bi-polar maniac with homicidal tendencies. But it happened with this one. One minute, I felt an uncontrollable rage down in my gut, to the point I was ready to unleash the beast on anyone who crossed me, and the next minute I was laughing. Most of you are nodding your heads, because I am close to the last person on earth who has experienced this wonderful biography "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls.

To the casual passer-by, Jeannette Walls is a beautiful, statuesque red-head, an accomplished journalist who has worked for MSNBC.com among other news agencies. But for those who have read her life story, she is truly a study in the tenacity of human spirit, determination and good old-fashioned hard work. It is all of these things, and by the grace of God, that this woman is where she is today.



Let's just start with Jeanette's colorful parents. Her mother can only be described as a flighty, eccentric, irresponsible flower child. A woman who feels her true calling in life is to be an artist, food and bills be damned. A woman who would rather have an adventure than worry about having a permanent home, distrusts authority and loathes order. A woman who would rather keep some land in Texas in the family than cashing in a making millions. Jeannette's father is a life-loving drunk. He is incredibly gifted and intelligent, has dreams of making it big, but has a hard time holding down a job for more than a month or two. It is always somebody else's fault, you see. THE MAN is dragging him down.

So Jeanette and her three siblings are often left to fend for themselves. At three, Jeannette had grown skilled at making hot dogs for the other children when they get hungry, until she catches her dress on fire and ends up in the hospital with third-degree burns. They never stayed in one place long, often living in their car. While the children eat margarine to survive, their father spends his take-home pay on booze and cigarettes, while their mother paints the next masterpiece, or wanders off to "find herself". These children learn early that they can't get attached to a pet, a toy or even a rock collection. Their father may have to escape authorities and leave town on a moment's notice.

When Jeanette is pubescent age, the family travels from Arizona to West Virgina to stay with her father's family. They soon discover that not only is Grandma a pedophile, but Uncle is too. When Uncle tries to molest Jeannette, Mom just tells her that they need to feel sympathy for him because he is lonely. Jeanette's father uses her to captivate low-lifes in various bars to make it easier to swindle them for a few bucks in a pool game. As the children get older and realize their only hope is to escape to New York, and save all of their money for over a year to make the dream come true, dear old dad breaks their piggy bank and takes everything to buy booze. At this point, I was ready to fly into a rage and claw Dad's eyes out. This is wrong in so many ways!

But how can I continue to feel this way, when at the same time, Dad "gives" each kid a star in the sky for Christmas? Takes Jeanette on a honest-to-goodness demon hunt to make sure it doesn't get her at night? Promises to build them all a glass castle that they will all live in and be happy ever after? Even once Jeannette does move to New York and make it on her own, she continues to love her mom and dad, even though they are basically homeless and get their food from a dumpster.

While all of this sounds like the world's biggest downer, it isn't. Walls' voice is matter-of-fact, unencumbered and very untainted, despite everything she has seen. She keeps her humor, even in the darkest of times. Throughout her life, she was always her father's number one supporter, believing in him to the very end.

The narrator of this audio, Julia Gibson, gives a phenomenal performance. She captures Walls' essence, with a little backwoods twang and a little childlike innocence. Listening to her voice is like enjoying a healthy slice of cheesecake for dessert. Never once did I check my watch, or feel that I had to force myself through a chapter. It was effortless listening from beginning to end.

Serendipitously, I just received the latest EW and found a book review of Walls' latest published work, Half Broke Horses, about her grandmother. I doubt that Ms. Walls will ever be short of material to write about. May this book be just as successful, as uplifting, and as inspirational as her first.

5 out of 5 stars

31 comments:

Alice Teh said...

That's the nice thing about audio books. I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

Meghan said...

I totally agree with everything you've said about this book, especially about her father. You want to hate him, but it's obvious that he loves his kids, especially Jeannette. This is quite a book and it's remarkable that Jeannette emerged successful and able to make her own way in the world, but I suppose she'd been doing that her whole life.

Nicole said...

I enjoyed this one as well, though the ending left me a little troubled. But I saw Jeanette Walls at The National Book Festival and she is a great speaker. A lot of my lingering questions about her memoir were answered there.

Susan said...

Sandy, you nailed this book right on the head! That was a perfect rundown and no New York editor could have done a better job of giving a synopsis and review!

I can't wait to read the new book. She only touched on her grandmother's character in the first one. She's actually coming to a book signing in Columbus, but I don't think I'll be able to make it. Darn it!

Charley said...

I enjoyed this book, too. And I've heard Half-Broke Horses is quite good as well.

Susan said...

Sandy, have you seen this video?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd4lhJIG_8Q

Heather J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather J. said...

I loved this book too! My book club had a great discussion about it. We loved it so much we decided to read HALF BROKE HORSES as our January book. I'm looking forward to seeing how the two books compare.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Alice - I do love my audios. Couldn't live without them!

Meghan - so when I hear excuses from people that say they had a bad childhood, and that is why their life is crap, I just shake my head. This girl had everything going against her, but she pulled through.

Nicole - Yes, I watched some things on YouTube about her, and she is so poised. I would love to see her in person!

Susan - thank you for saying that! I always worry I won't be able to communicate the essence of the book! (BTW, I did see that video. I'd thought about including it, but for some reason didn't. She is amazing to watch!)

Charley - I'm hoping my library will get the audio for Half Broke Horses. AND I'm hoping they will use the same narrator!

Heather - this would be an excellent read for a book club. Boy, it sure wound me up, and would have loved to rant and rave with other readers!

Amy said...

I saw that write-up in EW too! The story of her father using the families saved money to buy booze is, sadly, all too common it seems. And it sounds as if at other times he was a great dad. The complexities of relationships and addiction.

Great review, Sandy. I am putting this on my TBR list!

Carrie K. said...

I loved this audio, too! I had the same emotional reaction as you. I was amazed that she was able to tell her story without malice and bitterness. So very well done - and you wrote a wonderful review!

bermudaonion said...

I read this book years ago and was astonished by Walls' parents. I felt like her mother was mentally ill and alcohol got the best of her father. I actually got to hear Jeanette speak and she said she's living in Virginia now and her mother lives in a trailer on her property. I'm amazed at the resilience of the human spirit.

ds said...

Wow. This is the sort of book that I tend to avoid. It's amazing that Jeannette turned out as well as she has, but then she learned very early the lessons for survival. After a childhood like that, the competition of journalism is a snap. Outstanding review, Sandy. Perfect!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Amy - you are right, I don't think I want to know how many drunk dads have broken their kids' piggy banks for beer money. It makes me heartsick. On the other hand, if this woman can rise above the crap, so can anyone else.

Carrie - didn't you love the narrator? I hope she works on the audio for Half Broke Horses

Kathy - I saw a video on YouTube of her mother in her trailer. I just shake my head. Jeannette truly has the Holy Spirit running through her, if she can forgive so entirely.

ds - I don't like downers, but like I said in the review, this one is not. It is a wonderful audio.

Iliana said...

Still haven't read this one yet - I must be the last one now! ;)

Wonderful review Sandy. I do have this book but I have to be really in the mood to read a memoir as more than likely they always end up being so freaking sad. Glad to hear that there are at least some uplifting moments in this one.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Iliana - I'm pretty sure this one would not make you sad. Angry perhaps, but never once does Walls' tone sound defeated.

Literary Feline said...

I really liked how the author maintained such a positive outlook through the entire book. It really was uplifting and I never really thought of her as a "victim".

Jenners said...

Wasn't this just something else? I remember just being blown away by what she experienced ... and that she came out so normal. But it does make you so angry at her parents -- the way they treated their kids. An excellent memoir ... probably one of the best I've read.

kathleen said...

My book club chose this one to read about a year ago. I started it and never finished it. Your review makes me realize I need to get it up to the top of my TBR pile.

Lisa said...

Sounds like a painful, powerful read.

Ti said...

I haven't read or heard of this one but you sure piqued my interest. Any book that can take you from one emotion to another so quickly is a book that I need to own.

The Bumbles said...

I read this one in half a day. A friend brought it along on a ski weekend for me to borrow. While they were all skiing I gorged myself on this book. One of my favorite memoirs, along with A Million Little Pieces and All Over But The Shoutin'.

Jeane said...

Awesome review. What a rollercoaster ride this book was. I was shocked that the dad was erudite enough to teach his kids advanced match and other intellectual subjects, yet couldn't keep a job down and give his family a stable life...

farmlanebooks said...

You're not the last person to read it -it is still on my wishlist. It is great to know that the audio version is good. I will see if I can find a copy. Great review!

JoAnn said...

I didn't realize Walls had another book out. Read this one with my book club when it was first published. I was the only one that didn't like it - I was just too horrified and enraged! At the meeting I ended up giving another member my hardcover copy. I never wanted to see it again! It's amazing she turned out so well.

Matt said...

I have been wanting to read Jeannette Walls for quite some time now. From what you have described this book is quite serious in nature. I didn't know it was a memoir when I fist spotted it at the bookstore.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I loved this one! I rarely keep books because I am not a re-reader, but this is one I still have.

I do want to read her second book too!

caite said...

I own this one (my niece gave it to me after she read and loved it) and you may have motivated me to find it and actually read it.

Andreea said...

I am glad you enjoyed it, Sandy! Excellent review!

Dar said...

I read this book years ago with my book club and we all loved it. I bet it would be awesome on audio. I'm a little weird like that-I like listening to books I've already read. Glad you liked it Sandy. I have yet to read her new one but I'd like to.

Anna said...

Wow, what a wonderfully written review. I didn't really have any plans to read this book, but after you're review, it's going on my to-read list. Boy her family is a real piece of work! I can see why the book would make you angry.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric