The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir that recounts the author’s harsh upbringing at the hands of an alcoholic father and a rather demented mother. It is not a book I would normally pickup – unhappy families may be unique but it’s not something I want to read about – but I was captured by the first line: “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.” The whole of the story is contained in that line, the story of a child who loves her parents but had to escape in order to survive.
Told in the first person, the book unfolds in chronological order, starting in the early 1960’s when the author is about three years old. The family, Walls, her parents and three other siblings are constantly on the move, avoiding bill collectors and angry swindled friends, becoming increasingly poor as the years go on. As a small child the chaotic life the family leads seems normal, even adventurous, but as the story progresses Walls starts to resent the seemingly self-inflicted poverty and the endless confusion that her parents create. With a lot of hard work Walls is able to make it through collage and fashion a much better life for herself, even as her parent become homeless on the streets of New York.
Some of the scenes are almost unbelievable, but Walls, a writer for New York magazine and Esquire, is able to convey even the most painful and ridiculous moments with a calm voice and without judgment. It is a compelling story that I highly recommend.