What I’m Reading: A Princess and Her Castle

Last weekend, I seriously needed a brain break, so I packed a bag and took the commuter rail up to Ipswich to spend time with my self-made family (not related, but may as well be). There, I stayed with my third set of grandparents, who spoiled me with dinners out and tons of conversation.

Mornings in Ipswich are notoriously laidback, and I knew that I would need a book to occupy my time. So I stopped by Barnes and Noble and picked up The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I figured that now was as good a time as any to read about dysfunctional families.

My older brother first recommended The Glass Castle, and it makes a lot of sense. We never slummed it or had an alcoholic-bordering-on-negligent father. But nonetheless, our family has had its problems.

Walls’ story is compelling and definition “gritty.” It’s incredible the hardship she faced.

Walls’ childhood was marked by “adventures,” when she and her family would pack their lives into whatever put-put car they happened to have at the time and drive someplace new. Her father was emotionally abusive and thoroughly “pickled,” as he put it. Her mother was an artist, more concerned with surviving than thriving.

“It wasn’t just any tree. It was an ancient Joshua tree. It stood in a crease of land where the desert ended and the mountain began, forming a wind tunnel. From the time the Joshua tree was a tiny sapling, it had been so beaten down by the whipping wind that, rather than trying to grow skyward, it had grown in the direction that the wind pushed it. . . One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not to far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. ‘You’d be destroying what makes it special,’ she said. ‘It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty,'” (35-38).

The beauty of Walls’ story is not necessarily in the story, despite its happy ending (she gets an Ivy League education, works in publishing in New York and marries well). The beauty is actually in the sadness, in the naïve, 7-year-old explanation of her childhood. There is little bitterness in Walls’ voice; she tells her stories as she experienced them.

I don’t know that her book deserves all the praise it received, but I’m not one to tell her that her childhood wasn’t story-worthy. It’s a little predictable, a little repetitive, a little heartbreaking. And easy to read. I devoured it pretty quickly, admittedly hungry for my own happy ending.

I think it was the Ivy League education that diminished the book’s relevancy. It’s difficult to listen to someone discuss growing up in sandstorms when I know they ended up in one of the top five schools and a posh career.

Nonetheless, it was still compelling.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls,  $9.


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Hi, I'm Marian.
By day, I'm a PR maven with a nerdy affinity for research and branding. By night, I'm an explorer; I delve into books, food, design, and the murky waters of my own psyche, then share my musings here.





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