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The Glass Castle: A Memoir

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The Glass Castle: A Memoir Cover

ISBN13: 9780743247542
ISBN10: 074324754x
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

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. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom's gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she'd hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she'd been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she'd see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I'd collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I'd had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I'd tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I'd tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn't need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn't see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom's and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we'd had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.

Mom was sitting at a booth, studying the menu, when I arrived. She'd made an effort to fix herself up. She wore a bulky gray sweater with only a few light stains, and black leather men's shoes. She'd washed her face, but her neck and temples were still dark with grime.

She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. "It's my baby girl!" she called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it as well. "A little snack for later on," she explained.

We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. "You know how I love my seafood," she said.

She started talking about Picasso. She'd seen a retrospective of his work and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky, as far as she was concerned. He hadn't really done anything worthwhile after his Rose Period.

"I'm worried about you," I said. "Tell me what I can do to help."

Her smile faded. "What makes you think I need your help?"

"I'm not rich," I said. "But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need."

She thought for a moment. "I could use an electrolysis treatment."

"Be serious."

"I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good."

"Come on, Mom." I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they invariably did during these conversations. "I'm talking about something that could help you change your life, make it better."

"You want to help me change my life?" Mom asked. "I'm fine. You're the one who needs help. Your values are all confused."

"Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago."

"Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It's my way of recycling." She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. "Why didn't you say hello?"

"I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid."

Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. "You see?" she said. "Right there. That's exactly what I'm saying. You're way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it."

"And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?"

"Just tell the truth," Mom said. "That's simple enough."

Copyright © 2005 by Jeannette Walls

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Average customer rating based on 51 comments:

Jonathan Zilberman, May 1, 2013 (view all comments by Jonathan Zilberman)
Review on Glass Castle
Few people can survive in the desert with little or no food or money, let alone children. But this is exactly what the children of The Glass Castle have to do. The Glass Castle is a story in the life of Jeannette Walls, a little girl of Rex and Rosemary Walls. She, along with her brother, Brian, and her sister, Lori, have to take care of themselves, as they endure a poor existence. Their father is a drunk and their mother has no time for them, so they essentially raise themselves. The children manage to improve their lives and make the best of their experiences. They roam from town to town because their father is constantly losing jobs. A side effect of this is that the Walls children never truly receive a thorough education. They manage to learn useful things through their father, who is very intelligent, despite the fact that he is often forgetful and doesn’t carry through on his promises. Throughout this story there are many times in which the incidents that befall Jeannette are shocking. It seems that this book must be fiction because the events seem so outrageous to normal people. This book was extremely detailed and it is amazing how much of her childhood the author remembered. It also showed a side of life that many experience, but that few or none document. It expressed thoughts clearly and transitioned ideas easily. I personally found that this book has a unique personality that mesmerizes and intrigues. It tells a story that is like no other. The Glass Castle has left me with the insight that money is not everything in life. As well, it has the theme of hope, because no matter how bad the Walls' life was if they retained hope it always improved. This book left me with a respect for the life that I live.
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eleekendrick, March 20, 2013 (view all comments by eleekendrick)
One of the best books I have read in a long time, and possibly the best memoir I have ever read. It is so beautiful, haunting, and disturbing all at the same time. I love that the mood of the book changes as she gets older (the book starts when she is 3) with the beginning feeling more adventurous and free-spirited and about 1/2 way through it becomes more dark as she gets older and feels the stress of poverty and her own feelings of responsibility in taking care of her family and finding a way to make a different life for herself. I found myself angry at her parents for the life they put their kids through, especially when they had opportunities to make changes and receive support, but there were also times that I respected their choices and the creative ways they loved and took care of their children. This is a must read, especially for anyone working in social services or who grew up in poverty or a dysfunctional family of some kind (and really, who didn't?).
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325silvia, January 3, 2013 (view all comments by 325silvia)
Very funny, real, and moving memoir...by far one of the best memoirs I've read!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743247542
Author:
Walls, Jeannette
Publisher:
Scribner Book Company
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Subject:
Homeless persons
Subject:
Entertainment & Performing Arts - Television Personalities
Subject:
Poor
Subject:
Childhood Memoir
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Subject:
Dysfunctional Families
Subject:
Problem families -- United States.
Subject:
Children of alcoholics -- United States.
Subject:
Biography - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B102
Publication Date:
January 2006
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8 x 5.25 in 9.38 oz

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The Glass Castle: A Memoir Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780743247542 Reviews:
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Walls's journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect. A pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, thoroughly American story."
"Review" by , "Jeannette Walls has carved a story with precision and grace out of one of the most chaotic, heartbreaking childhoods ever to be set down on the page. This deeply affecting memoir is a triumph in every possible way, and it does what all good books should: it affirms our faith in the human spirit."
"Review" by , "The Glass Castle is the saga of the restless, indomitable Walls family, led by a grand eccentric and his tempestuous artist wife. Jeannette Walls has survived poverty, fires, and near starvation to triumph. She has written this amazing tale with honesty and love."
"Review" by , "Just read the first pages of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I defy you not to go on. It's funny and sad and quirky and loving. I was incredibly touched by it."
"Review" by , "Memoirs are our modern fairy tales....The autobiographer is faced with the daunting challenge of attempting to understand, forgive, and even love the witch....Readers will marvel at the intelligence and resilience of the Walls kids."
"Review" by , "The Glass Castle is nothing short of spectacular."
"Synopsis" by , “Nothing short of spectacular” (Entertainment Weekly), The Glass Castle is the bestselling, critically acclaimed, highly publicized, and celebrated memoir by Jeannette Walls. Millions of readers have been transformed by Jeannette Walls’s award-winning memoir of resilience amid a deeply dysfunctional childhood. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered. The Glass Castle is truly astonishing and poised to stand the test of time.

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