…by Jeannette Walls.
Alcoholic father. Irrational mother. Dysfunctional family. A nomadic life. That is only the big picture of the author’s childhood. This memoir details her and her siblings’ growing years in a not-so-stable home with parents who lived in their own little worlds. The author writes of the adverse conditions that she had to live through – starvation, no proper personal hygiene, etc. – and shows how she merged out it all as a success and made a life of her own.
The mother doesn’t seem concerned when the author mentions to her the episode of how her uncle tried to sexually abuse her; she (the mother) dismisses it with a “he’s just lonely” comment. The father almost pushes the author to prostitution in his drunken state. The mother refuses welfare even though the family has no stable income coming in and saves chocolates for herself when the children are left to starve for days. The father has visions of making it big in the world with his inventions, and thus doesn’t stay in a job even when his family is in utter need for that income. And the children, as they grow up, find ways to bring in money and save enough so that they can get out of the house after finishing high school.
Some of the incidents seemed too harsh to be true. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that parents can be so negligent. But even amid all that abuse around, the author doesn’t forget to shine light upon the nicer side of her parents. She talks fondly of her father’s brilliant mind – educating her on many topics, planning to build a glass castle. She discusses the optimistic side of her mother. She says stories of how she shared a special bond with her father. She shares memories of her mother’s art. But the negativity that the parents brought into the children’s lives take over whatever the few positive characteristics they might have had.
So, it came as a big relief, to me as a reader, when the children broke free and got away from home one after the other as soon as they finished school to try and make something of their futures. It was brave of them to have gone through so much and to get motivated to build a better life for themselves.
One thing I couldn’t understand was how the author could bring herself to forgive her parents for all that they’d done. Abuse, coming from anyone is still abuse, right? So, seeing her patch things up with her parents left me in with mixed feelings – on one hand I applaud at her kind heart to be able to move forward without minding the dreaded past, but on the other hand I am also left wondering if that is the right thing to do. Had I been in her situation, I would’ve turned my back on my parents as soon as I got out of the house.
Overall, this extremely heart wrenching, depressing story of children who grew up in a dysfunctional family is definitely worth the read.
My rating: 4*.
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