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The Glass Castle: A Memoir | [Jeannette Walls]

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

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. Rose Mary painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family; she called herself an "excitement addict."
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Publisher's Summary

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 15 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.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

©2005 Jeannette Walls (P)2010 Simon and Schuster Audio

What the Critics Say

"Jeannette Walls has carved a story with precision and grace out of one of the most chaotic, heartbreaking childhoods ever to be set down on the page. This deeply affecting memoir is a triumph in every possible way, and it does what all good books should: it affirms our faith in the human spirit." (Dani Shapiro, author of Family History)

"The Glass Castle is the saga of the restless, indomitable Walls family, led by a grand eccentric and his tempestuous artist wife. Jeannette Walls has survived poverty, fires, and near starvation to triumph. She has written this amazing tale with honesty and love." (Patricia Bosworth, author of Anything Your Little Heart Desires and Diane Arbus: A Biography)

"Just read the first pages of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I defy you not to go on. It's funny and sad and quirky and loving. I was incredibly touched by it." (Dominick Dunne, author of The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper)

What Members Say

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  •  
    A. Dade St. Louis, MO, USA 05-09-12
    A. Dade St. Louis, MO, USA 05-09-12
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    "Terribly sad... but triumphant"

    I was so sickened listening to this book... the terrible dismal conditions and their terrible preoccupied parents. It was just that... terribly sad.

    I loved the story though I was often shaking my head at how someone could go through all of that and turn out normal...

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 10-15-11
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 10-15-11 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "A challenging upbringing"

    There are lots of memoirs that grimly explore life in a dysfunctional family, to the point where an alcoholic dad, a reality-avoiding mom, and the misery they inflict on their children are almost cliches. However, Jeanette Walls??? story differs from the norm in that she strives for an attitude of forgiveness towards her free-spirited, troubled parents and a dispassionate acceptance of her own experience.

    To be sure, Rex and Rose Mary Walls are not going to win any parent-of-the-month awards, and forgiving isn't excusing. Rex has a drinking problem and trouble holding a steady job, while Rose Mary cares more about her painting than putting food on the table and seems to suffer from a manic-depressive disorder. As they move around the country, perpetually broke and often living out of a car, they barely manage to keep their children sheltered and clothed, and cheerfully allow them to face troubles and dangers on their own. A few incidents are downright shameful, such as Rex's appalling misuse of his daughter in a pool hustle. Yet, neither, at least as Walls describes them, is an outright *bad* person. Rex is a bright man full of grand ideas, whose love of learning and independent streak shapes his children???s sense of pride in themselves, even when his irresponsible behavior denies them a very secure life. And Rose Mary, though unstable, shows bursts of optimism and a passion for adventure. The contradictions in these two people are fascinating, funny, and heartbreaking, sometimes all at once.

    The Glass Castle also offers an interesting, somewhat conflicted perspective on poverty. The Walls children, while deprived on many levels, aren???t necessarily as unhappy or held-down in their lives as one might expect. In many respects, the young Jeanette grows up stronger and more self-assured than her peers (though, to be fair, her less-mentioned younger sister runs away as a teen and has some serious problems). Which is not to say that Walls dismisses the damaging aspects of being poor -- she certainly doesn???t -- but her memoir raises a few questions about conventional attitudes towards poverty, parenthood, and choice, and the need for a more nuanced understanding.

    All in all, an enjoyable read, though the story becomes thinner then comes to a halt once Jeanette Walls herself reaches adulthood. I can't help but wonder how much time she might have spent in therapy before writing this book.

    On a side note, some reviewers have accused Walls of being dishonest in her detailed recall of herself as a three year old. I disagree. While her actual memories of that age must have been limited, I would imagine that she based her account on what she had been told and added plausible details.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 06-12-11
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 06-12-11 Member Since 2008
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    "Thoughtful, touching, engaging."

    My title says it all. You wouldn't expect a memoir of a VERY dysfunctional family to be so engaging - but it is. A very insightful story - but not told to yield insight - about growing up with a narcissistic, alcoholic father and a well meaning, but detached daydreamer/artist of a mother. That the author and her siblings should be so resilient says a lot about the human capacity to cope and survive, but also about how even dysfunctional parents can pass along life-sustaining qualities. Although I seldom think authors should read their own books, Walls does a passable job that does not distract from her story.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DIANE Thornhill,, Ontario, Canada 03-24-11
    DIANE Thornhill,, Ontario, Canada 03-24-11 Member Since 2009

    I am an avid "reader"- I prefer to listen to books rather than read them due to the added dimension added by the narrator.

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    "What a story!"

    It is hard to believe that people lead lives such as the one Walls narrates in this book. That a person can have an upbringing such as the one she had and turn out capable and well-adjusted is nothing short of a miracle. I loved that Jeanette developed strength from adversity and was inspired by her.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KSZ714 Boston 10-14-14
    KSZ714 Boston 10-14-14 Member Since 2014
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    "A gripping memoir of an American family"
    What made the experience of listening to The Glass Castle the most enjoyable?

    Knowing that Jeanette Walls was reading the book allowed me to understand the nuances of her diction and really appreciate the subtlties of her pauses and inflections. I could see, hear, smell, taste, so many of the vivid details. I was there--everywhere--with her.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Glass Castle?

    There are far too many to narrow down, but I loved Jeanette's birthday gift request, and her father's efforts to fulfill that wish for her. I adored Lorie's back talking Erma, and the swimming pool scene with Denisha. I loved her final smile to her father, and the fact that the van made the news. I loved the Barnard professor asking, "what do you know?" Every moment was memorable.


    Have you listened to any of Jeannette Walls’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    N/A


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    YES!


    Any additional comments?

    I can't stop thinking about Jeanette and her family and the story. I want to read Half Broken Horses, but I also have so many questions for her--as a writer and teacher myself--that I would love to have answered. I have students who have said they hated the mother, and I can understand why that might be a teenage reaction, but I didn't hate her. I didn't hate anyone, except Erma and Billy and the other evil people who were cruel sadists.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Londa Lebanon, OR, United States 09-01-14
    Londa Lebanon, OR, United States 09-01-14 Member Since 2004
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    "Excellent and kind portrait of her life."

    I just finished listening to this for the first time and am about to start it over. I started it yesterday and couldn't wait to get up this morning to finish it. This isn't a book report, it is to let the author and others know that it is worth the read or listen. Well done, Jeannette.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Healing Touch 08-29-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Poorly written..what was the point?"
    What disappointed you about The Glass Castle?

    This was supposedly some kind of memoir. It consisted basically of flat, undeveloped, serial tragic events in someone's life. Didnt seem to be much point except to tell about these events in a lackluster way. Only made it half-way through and had to give up on it.


    Has The Glass Castle turned you off from other books in this genre?

    no


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephanie 07-10-14
    Stephanie 07-10-14 Member Since 2009
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    "A true story of resillency!"
    Where does The Glass Castle rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I thought this story was fantastic, but the author's reading was a bit too slow for me. I listened to it all on 1.25 speed. I'm only criticizing the speed; the tone and characterization were wonderful.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Jaynie 06-08-14
    Jaynie 06-08-14 Member Since 2013
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    "I thought my family was dysfunctional....."

    Having emerged from a dysfunctional family myself, I was amazed at how good my life had actually been compared to this one. Yikes. Brilliant writing. Excellent narration. I'm recommending this to all my friends who 'think' they too have emerged from a dysfunctional family.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paula 05-11-14
    Paula 05-11-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Amazing Story"

    Wow I thought I had it bad growing up! This is am amazing story about overcoming a childhood filled with so much dysfunction to become a successful adult. Enjoyed This book and recommend it to my friends.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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