By December 3, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Discussing “The Glass Castle”

By this time, many Book Group Buzz readers have probably already read and discussed Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle.  But my library book group only recently tackled this well-written and extremely disturbing tale of a woman who miraculously survived terrifying childhood abuse; and we found plenty to talk about.

Several participants wondered if Walls’ book is really a true story.  How did she — how could anyone — emerge alive (and seemingly well adjusted) after so many horrendous experiences?  A reference was made to another heavily promoted and equally harrowing autobiography, A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey, which turned out to be more fantasy than reality.  But from all reports (so far, anyway), Walls seems to be telling the truth about her early life, and even though much of the story is dark and quite upsetting, it contains more than a few flashes of humor.

Perhaps the comic moments are what make it bearable and thus encourage the reader to continue.  One group member compared the book to Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s celebrated account of growing up in poverty, fear, and despair.  Do we have the makings here of a new subgenre of autobiography — tales of survivors from hideously dysfunctional families?

One of the most interesting aspects of The Glass Castle is Walls’ refusal to judge her parents for the dreadful ways they treated her and her siblings; you keep expecting her to burst forth with a torrent of anger and criticism at some point, but it never comes.  And the book group members wondered what she finally learned from all the trauma and bad treatment.  The book isn’t clear about this.  Today she is successful, with a presumably happy marriage, a beautiful home, and a glamourous career.  When we finish the book, we are glad for her, but there seem to be some important loose ends that still need tying up, some crucial questions that still cry out for answers.  Her father, portrayed as a liar, thief, and hopeless alcoholic and yet as a man who taught his children binary numbers and gave them stars in the sky as special presents, is dead now — and her mother, a daft dreamer who pillages dumpsters for food, clothing, and other necessities rather than accept help from her grown daughter, flits off to a homeless existence in a dangerous urban neighborhood.  How can Walls get past these heartbreaking situations and salvage her own sanity?  Her memories may be tough for her — and her readers — to confront, but they make us grateful for our own less challenging lives.

In the end, whether you believe it or not, The Glass Castle is a fascinating story that’s definitely worth reading — and talking about.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "Discussing “The Glass Castle”"

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  1.' Jones says:

    I read the book and was disappointed with it. I didn’t find it that well-written either. Ms. Walls’ refusal to comment about her parents’ abuse of her and her siblings is not admirable and she doesn’t seem to accept the fact that she, and they, actually were victims of child abuse. I found nothing humorous in the book and really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. A Child Called It, Angela’s Ashes, and many other books about horrendous childhoods (also, Augusten Burroughs’ several books), are much more interesting, far better written, and Angela’s Ashes is far superior.

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