Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

"My compulsion to be always on the move began to fade. 
But I liked to go for long walks at night. 
I often walked west toward the river. 
The city lights obscured the stars, 
but on clear nights, 
I could see Venus on the horizon, 
up over the dark water, 
glowing steadily."

Apparently I'm making a habit out of starting books with a completely incorrect impression of what they're about. Jen read this book forever ago and told me then that I had to read it. That must have been in the midst of one of her Holocaust-related reading binges, because I thought this book was about the Holocaust. And yes, that error would have been easily corrected by reading anything about the book, but I make it a point to not read the summaries on the backs of books because I think they give away too much.

Anyway, this book is NOT about the Holocaust. That's particularly interesting because the book has been sitting on the shelf for nearly a year, and the reason I put off reading it is because I was never in the right mood for the heaviness of a WWII book. Turns out, it was better that I read it when I did. While I cannot relate to any of the details of this book, the story seemed to have this theme of moving on. I do not mean to minimize the suffering of Walls' life by drawing a parallel to my own, but this book did a lot to bolster my spirit. In just over two months, I'll move away from my home and family to attend law school. I had a hard enough time when I moved an hour away for my undergraduate education, and I've really worried about my ability to make a new life for myself. But reading how the Walls siblings each, at their own time, moved to New York with little more than the bus ticket that got them there and successfully created their futures, I couldn't help but grow slightly more confident about my ability to do the same.

However, there is much more to this book than the relatively happy ending that most of the children find. In short, the book is the author's story of her nomadic childhood with two parents who were selfish at their best and even, at times, entirely negligent. Her father's alcoholism combined with a sincere disdain for authority kept him frequently jobless, traveling throughout the deserts of the west and, eventually, back to his childhood home in West Virginia. Reading about all that the kids were up against--not only the horrible living conditions. the long spells with little or no food, or the inability to make friends and fit in but also the irresponsibility of the parents and apparent disregard for their children's welfare--it is remarkable that the children were able to so efficiently achieve their goals. 

As I read this book, I was so angry with Jeannette's parents. And I'm ashamed to admit I was, at times, even angry with Jeannette when she would forgive her father after he exhibited particularly devastating behavior. But now that I think back, I realize that frustration was probably because of my ignorance regarding the true meaning of unconditional love. On a very basic level, I can understand Jeannette's relationship with her father, because I too have always believed in my dad, have always seen in him my hero. Growing up, I was happiest when he was telling us bedtime stories. My dad and I have many similar interests, and I seek his approval. But if I'm being honest, it's so easy to love my dad. That love has never been tested. I've never had to forgive my dad. He has always been stable, reliable, and a perfect example of hard work and morality. Considering all of this, I am truly amazed at Jeannette's love for her father. 

I could keep going on about this book, because there's so much to digest. I recommend reading this to anyone. It is bound to change your life or at least how you view it.

1 comment:

Jen said...

You are so much deeper than I. We can read the same thing and yet you will see a transcendent message. Thank you for always sharing your thoughts!