The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle is marketed as a non-fiction memoir. My initial reaction to this book occurred on Page 16. It was “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is no more a memoir than James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces”. Jeannette Walls expects the reader to believe that at age 3 she vividly remembered everything that happened to her. This included being burned severely when her dress caught fire while cooking hot dogs by herself. Then she recalls clearly- after being admitted to the hospital- her (alcoholic) father abducting her because he thought her bandaged body needed to breathe. She conveniently recalls exact conversations with complete descriptions of everything. However, the two things she cannot remember are… the name of the hospital she was taken to or the name of the town they lived in.
This episode was followed by the author recalling stories of her sister being bit by a scorpion, her brother falling and cracking his head open, being thrown from the car while the family was traveling to Las Vegas, being beat up by Mexicans, several more fires, playing with guns, and playing outside during lightening storms, and… all before she turned 6 years old.
Before going any further, I would like to mention that in the past, memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies were expected to be thoroughly researched and warranted to be factual. Novels were fiction. But for someone to embellish the truth with some fiction and then call it a memoir is blasphemy to the written word. In this day and age, when so much of life is superficial (as in reality TV), I would like to believe that at least we could count on authors and the publishing industry to demand the highest standards in maintaining separation between truth and overactive imagination.
That being said, I continued to read Jeannette’s hard luck story, and as she got older, her tale does seem to gain more credibility. Several times, having never being fully pulled into the sensationalized drama, I almost quit. But I did in the end manage to finish. Portions of the book were interesting, clever and witty, but the one and two page chapters read like tabloid journalism and the entire book reeked of the competitive charge that “my life was worse than your life”. Unfortunately, this spirit rings true of too many contemporary memoirs on the market today.
Jeannette Walls had a pretty terrible life. But why- even to the very last page- after a lifetime of dealing with an out of control alcoholic father, a mentally unstable mother, two irresponsible parents who purposely put their children through life threatening situations, poverty, malnutrition, and the total chaos of growing up drifting homelessly from town to town, is Jeannette telling this horrible story with a smile on her face? One cannot avoid feeling that she is not being completely honest with us… exaggerating at the very least.
When I first reviewed The Glass Castle for Amazon in 2009, Jeannette Walls responded to my review saying “what difference does it make if every little detail was not true… the story helped (I take it she meant inspired) a lot of people.” Her second book published a few months after our correspondence is the story of her grandmother and was appropriately titled Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel.
Rated 2 Stars
All contents © 2009 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.