Jeannette Walls’ 2005, gut-wrenching memoir about her traumatic childhood is an amazing story, but even more important than her tale are the insights that writing it gave her.
My book club recently read “The Glass Castle”; I re-read parts of it in preparation for the discussion, having devoured the book years before. I also spent time on the web before and after our discussion looking for new information about Walls and her family. Here’s what I discovered.
At forty, Jeannette created the life she wanted with each word she wrote on the page. She faced her demons; took huge risks – real and imagined, and learned to forgive herself. This amazing woman swears her biggest triumph was forgiving herself for surviving, not her parents for what they did. In her 2009 National Book Festival presentation, Jeannette talks about the complexities of “survivor’s guilt”, and learning to deal with “doing better” than her parents and leaving her siblings “behind’.
Jeannette’s mother is alive and well, and lives with her and her husband tending horses on their Virginia farm. Jeannette clarified that she’s not a saint – her mother doesn’t actually live with them, but rather in a small house on their farm. It’s clear Jeannette’s sense of humor and humility are fully intact.
Jeannette is not a survivor she is a thrivor! She has successfully traversed her childhood traumas again and again: first, when she somehow managed to live through them; second, through her book, and third through the hundreds of talks or interviews she has given. This inspiring 6-foot, 50 year-old, red-head has maintained her grace and dignity each step of the way. In addition, Jeannette is more than willing to give her parents credit for the positive moments and memories she has, and for the enjoyment she receives from her current relationship with her Mom.
Walls believes that “everything in life is both a blessing and a curse” and “it’s entirely up to us which one we choose to focus on.”
If you haven’t read the book, it’s a tough tale, but well worth reading. Perhaps listening to the Book Talk ahead of time is a good idea, since it will reassure you that Jeannette turned out fine.
During her National Book Festival talk, Jeannette briefly discussed her 2009 book, “Half-Broke Horses”, which is about her maternal Grandmother. I haven’t read it, and didn’t think I would (Judgemental, I know, but I didn’t want to cut her mother any slack for the way she treated her children.) – until I listened to Jeannette’s talks and interviews. My new-found interest is really an act of respect for Jeannette – for the woman she is, and the person she shows each of us we can become.
For those of you who have read the book, she also mentioned in National Book Festival talk that her older sister Lori was still an artist in Manhattan; her brother retired from the police force and was teaching 9th grade English, and in an October 2010 article about a presentation Walls did in Cleveland, Ohio she mentions that her sister Maureen, “lived safely in California, but hadn’t managed to transcend their hardscrabble beginnings.”
I finished this book about a month ago, it is a great read. Ms. Wells is definitely a survivor. It’s good to know that she and her siblings largely succeeded in life–the book made me realize how great a gift the love of reading can be, I don’t think they would have made it otherwise.
Their survival really is amazing, and you’re right, Katie – reading played a big part in it!
I think I might read this book over the weekend. I am so looking forward to easy continuous time with my partner, just hanging round our nabe. Farmer’s Market, contemplation of the miracle of breath and rebirth.
Did you get a chance to read it, Mary – what did you think? Hope you had a good holiday.