Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Glass Castle

It's pretty obvious that I haven't been blogging much lately -- for quite a while now I have not been reading as much, nor writing as much as I once did.
From time to time I do have a spate of Poetry happening -- but, among other things, work is wearing me to a frazzle. This I shall adopt as my current main excuse for the anorexic state of Bookpuddle.
Right now I have my nose in an intriguing memoir.
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls.
The author had me at the first sentence: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.
It's the story of an eccentric family making their way across America, apparently trying to break the Guinness World-Record for Most Locations Briefly Lived In. By the time Jeanette is six or seven she counts up nearly a dozen places they have lived. The Walls aren't exactly hippies, per se, but definitely anti-establishment. Both parents have severely unorthodox ideas about how to raise a family, but the father, Rex -- he wins the prize for craziness. Even Dr. Phil would run out of euphemisms counseling this guy!
Rex thinks he is going to strike it rich discovering gold……. somewhere. And his invention, the Prospector© is going to help him do it. If they would ever stay in one place for more than a few months, hell, maybe they would find gold!
But they don't stay. As soon as there are any societal complications [and there always is] they pick up and move.
Much like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, it's the kind of story where you are really rooting for the kids, who often seem to act in a more mature fashion than the adults that are entrusted to them.
You may recall Frank McCourt's father [a chronic alcoholic and prolific baby-producer] who always filled his children with empty promises. "He'll give us a nickel for ice cream if we promise to die for Ireland and we promise but we never get the nickel."
Here in the Walls family, it is much the same -- empty promises involving the discovery of gold in them thar hills, which would lead to the construction of the family estate, known as the Glass Castle.
He carried around the blueprints for the Glass Castle wherever we went, and sometimes he'd pull them out and let us work on the design for our rooms.
All we had to do was find gold, Dad said, and we were on the verge of that. Once he finished the Prospector and we struck it rich, he'd start work on our Glass Castle.
You read this and desperately want to instruct these kids to not hold their breath.
In fact, that terrific opening sentence of the book presages the fact that there ain't gonna be no castle!
And yet, there is not the sense of a pity-party or a whinyness in Jeanette.
Conversely, she loves her father dearly [at least so far] and fully trusts him… even though he does some real nasty things. Like throwing her cat Quixote out the car window as they are driving to their next destination, or repeatedly tossing Jeanette into the swimming pool until she nearly drowns -- to teach her to swim. Or dangling Mom out of an upper story window during an exceptionally heated argument. The children rescue her!
It's an enthralling story. Engagingly written in vignette fashion. Nice bite-size pithy segments that make you want to reach for the next one. Like potato chips.

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