The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

June 14, 2021

It would be a lie to say that I had no expectations going into this book. My friend had mentioned that it was a rather “depressing” read and I started it fully expecting it to be just that. Now that I’ve finished though, I don’t think I found that to be the case. It’s another memoir that doesn’t come with any moral or real conclusion to be drawn. And to be clear, though that sounds a little negative, this is not a bad thing. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed reading it, and I have a few thoughts that I’d want to dissect further.

The first is a pretty surface level comparison: while reading The Glass Castle, I found that I was reminded very strongly of Educated by Tara Westover. They’re both memoirs about an extreme childhood and an eventual “escape” or exit. In terms of writing, they were both super well-written though it’s been a while so I’m having trouble remembering exact details regarding their styles now.

One of the ideas that comes up a fair bit is her parents’ inability to change their lifestyle. Rex tries to quit drinking numerous times, and even when it seems like we’ve reached the climax, with him tied to the bed frame, screaming alone, he falls right back into it a few pages or a chapter later. There’s no fanfare, it’s not played up as a big deal, it’s just, oh, he’s drinking again. The same pattern can be easily identified in various other scenarios, often involving the mom as well, like regarding her teaching roles, their resistance to budgeting. It’s hard to describe the pattern succinctly, but I guess if I had to I would say that it seems like they’re just drawn towards instability.

And though I tried to remain unbiased throughout my reading, I found myself passing judgement regardless. This is almost certainly due to the environment I was brought up in; I was raised to believe in values very much opposed to what Walls’ parents seem to live by, or lived by. But also now, having watched Nomadland, it feels like my thoughts have been re-jumbled (if that’s a word). What is one supposed to do in such a situation? Continuously offer help, whether it be monetary or through some physical gift? And there is never really any conclusion drawn, no closure to be had. I suppose, in the end, that it’s just “to each their own”, everyone should be able to live their lives however they see fit. And though that sounds like such a simple idea on the surface, I’m sure that’s much more complicated when it impacts your own life.

Obviously, I have a tough time even imagining what a life like that would be like. There are moments where I was astonished just at the tenacity that these kids had at ages, what, 12? 13? Just being able to understand the gravity of the situations, doing things like managing their mom’s teaching position, attempting to budget, saving up for school. I feel like I wasn’t truly sentient until high school. Sure, these are concepts that I understood growing up, but I doubt I would have been able to apply them properly, and certainly not in such a situation.

As seems to be the case with many memoirs I read, this has been a more emotional one, and now that I’ve read two in relatively quick succession (? I’m not sure if this counts as quick, I’ve been lagging a bit in the past few weeks), I’ll be moving onto lighter novels for a bit I think.

I didn’t end up highlighting that many passages, honestly because I kind of forgot to for most of the book, there are definitely many more than the five I did that are highlight worthy, but I’ll put the ones I did at the bottom for documentation’s sake.


“Cats don't like to travel," Mom explained.

Anyone who didn't like to travel wasn't invited on our adventure, Dad said. He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck, and tossed him out the window. Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.”

“Mom gave me a startled look. I'd broken one of our unspoken rules: We were always supposed to pretend our life was one long and incredibly fun adventure.”

“Whatever the cause, Erma had made detailed preparations for the occasion of her death. For years she had read The Welch Daily News only for the obituaries and black-bordered memorial notices, clipping and saving her favorites. They provided inspiration for her own death announcement, which she'd worked and reworked.”

“Mom never told Dad that I'd urged her to leave him. That summer he still thought of me as his biggest supporter, and given that there was so little competition for the job, I probably was.”

“He treats me fine, Dad," I said. What I wanted to say was that I knew Eric would never try to steal my paycheck or throw me out the window, that I'd always been terrified I'd fall for a hard-drinking, hell-raising, charismatic scoundrel like you, Dad, but I'd wound up with a man who was exactly the opposite.”