four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
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0

A Memoir

A-GlassCastleAfter two decades, Walls, a New York gossip columnist, has revealed her roots. As a child, she and her three siblings drifted from California to West Virginia with two eccentric parents. Her charismatic father was a self-taught man who went on benders; her artistic mother, an "excitement addict," always rationalized their hardships. Why feed pets just so they could become dependent? What better Christmas present than giving each child a star in the Arizona night sky? The Walls children fended for themselves, eating out of trashcans when their father stole the grocery money. Walls, who recalls her childhood with compassion, stresses the lessons they learned: how to embrace and wrest control of life.
Scribner. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743247531

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Some people are born storytellers. Some lives are worth telling. The best memoirs happen when these two conditions converge. In The Glass Castle, they have." Janice P. Nimura

Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Had Frank McCourt’s family stayed in America instead of returning to Ireland, Angela’s Ashes might have some of the same stories Walls lived to tell. … The book dares us not to love Rex Walls, at least at first, as the brilliant storyteller father who strings his children along with stories of the glass castle he will build for them one day." Janet Okoben

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat’s best is the deceptive ease with which she makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure. … Even as she describes how their circumstances degenerated … Walls is notably evenhanded and unjudging." Francine Prose

People Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Walls never turns her parents into monsters and instead emphasizes their humanity. … Though there are many memoirs that describe hardscrabble childhoods, Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art." Edward Nawotka

Time 4 of 5 Stars
"Walls … is a dead-on, dry-eyed portraitist, both of others and of herself. She writes without a drop of self-pity, and she never makes the mistake of allowing her parents to become monsters: they’re always flawed yet recognizably human, desperately trying to be themselves and instead destroying everyone around them." Lev Grossman

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Walls avoids drawing conclusions and chooses not to strive for transcendence, opting instead for the straight story. … As The Glass Castle nears its close, however, it becomes increasingly clear that while the particulars of this extraordinary childhood make for a fairly compelling tale, nothing lasting will be revealed." Traver Kauffman

Critical Summary

"Being homeless is an adventure," Walls’s mom used to say. In her extraordinary memoir, Walls recalls her nomadic life with surprising affection—though she would not want to relive it. The title, which derives from her father’s dream house, serves as an apt metaphor for the Walls’ fragility. Yet Walls sheds no tears nor succumbs to self-pity—she probably learned early on they would get her nowhere. Instead of condemning her parents’ foibles, she unblinkingly examines how they transformed hardship into family romance and adventure. Sharing incredible, painful experiences in no-nonsense prose, Walls has, as The New York Times Book Review notes, "succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do—to write the kind of book they themselves most want to read."

Cited by the Critics

The Liars’ Club | Mary Karr (1995): The poet and critic looks back on her chaotic East Texas upbringing that included a mother married seven times and a father fond of drinking and tall tales. Karr’s Cherry (2000) is a follow-up memoir.