Set over a period of several years, “The Glass Castle,” – the ’08-’09 selection for One Book Villanova – is a startling account of author Jeanette Walls’ disjointed and sometimes scary childhood.
The introduction alone is alluring enough, with a short tale of Walls being embarrassed to have lunch with her homeless mother.
Walls’ use of imagery to depict a woman rummaging through trash on the streets of New York and the realization that this woman is her mother is captivating.
Walls then jumps back about 30 years, describing a 3-year-old who has learned to boil her own hot dogs.
When her pink frilly dress catches on fire, Walls is rushed to the hospital, where after only six weeks of recovering from second- and third-degree burns, Walls’ father, Rex, breaks her out of the hospital.
Rex, it seems, is too brilliant for his own good. His hobbies are thermal engineering and drinking, which seemed to create some cockamamie ideas when combined.
His best is the Glass Castle, which is an all-glass house with solar cells and a water-purification system.
However, to build that, he would need money, and so Rex invented the Prospector, a device meant to find gold in the desert.
Most of these plans were in the blueprint stages because the family never stayed in one place for long in order to avoid the FBI and the Mafia, whom Rex always believed were closing in on them.
Walls presents her memories in chronological order, focusing on events that remain vivid in her mind 40 years later and allowing herself to build the other characters, her family and few friends.
We learn that Walls has an older sister, a younger brother and a younger sister, who is born during the novel.
Her older sister Lori takes after their mother with a deep love of books and art.
She is the responsible one and tends to always take the side of her mother.
Brian is closest to Walls in age, and they do everything together, from rummaging in the trash for food to nearly shooting a local bully.
Maureen, the youngest, is born in the middle of the novel and has a free spirit.
Walls keeps an honest tone throughout the book, never overemphasizing her memories or using comedy.
She never asks for sympathy, although it is the strongest emotion the reader will come away with after reading this novel.
But her tale is uplifting, as Walls and her siblings break free from their parents’ insanity but never from their influence.
Walls’ courageousness is inspiring, as most people would be too ashamed to broadcast their family’s abnormal behavior.
This novel will keep you interested from the first page to the last.
Student copies are available at the Student Development Office, the Office for Multicultural Affairs and Falvey Memorial Library for students living off campus.
Walls will speak on campus on Jan. 26, 2009.