The Glass Castle: A Memoir
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Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.
that he's your husband," Mom said. "I've got a little money," I said. "How much will it cost?" I'd read somewhere that off-road land in parched West Texas sold for as little as a hundred dollars an acre. "You can borrow from Eric," Mom said again. "Well, how much?" "A million dollars." "What?" "A million dollars." "But Uncle Jim's land is the same size as your land," I said. I was speaking slowly, because I wanted to make sure I understood the implications of what Mom had just told me.
slot machines that were constantly clinking and ticking and flashing lights. Mom said the slot players were hypnotized. Dad said they were damn fools. "Never play the slots," Dad told us. "They're for suckers who rely on luck." Dad knew all about statistics, and he explained how the casinos stacked the odds against the slot players. When Dad gambled, he preferred poker and pool—games of skill, not chance. "Whoever coined the phrase 'a man's got to play the hand that was dealt him' was most
size of small birds. There were no trees to speak of in Battle Mountain, but one corner of the dump had huge piles of railroad ties and rotting lumber that were great for climbing and carving your initials on. We called it the Woods. Toxic and hazardous wastes were stored in another corner of the dump, where you could find old batteries, oil drums, paint cans, and bottles with skulls and crossbones. Brian and I decided some of this stuff would make for a neat scientific experiment, so we filled
But you've left me with a problem. Who's going to edit the Wave next year?" "You'll find someone, I'm sure." "I've thought of trying to entice your brother into it." "People might start thinking that the Wallses are building a dynasty." Miss Bivens smiled. "Maybe you are." At home that night, Mom cleaned out a suitcase she'd used for her collection of dancing shoes, and I filled it with my clothes and my bound copies of The Maroon Wave. I wanted to leave everything from the past behind, even
the silence by announcing that in seven hours I'd be leaving Welch, in six hours I'd be leaving Welch, and we'd both start cracking up. I fell asleep only to be woken at first light by Brian, who, like Mom, wasn't an early riser. He was tugging at my arm. "No more joking about it," he said. "In two hours, you'll be gone." Dad hadn't come home that night, but when I climbed through the back window with my suitcase, I saw him sitting at the bottom of the stone steps, smoking a cigarette. He