Valuable quotes

"No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow." ~~



"The minute you start talking about what you're going to do if you lose, you've already lost." ~~



Cree Prophecy - "When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money." ~~


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Glass Castle - A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

I read The Glass Castle - A Memoir last November while still living in North Las Vegas and had a very clear knowledge of the places Jeannette Walls spoke of in in her book. Her eventual move to Welch, West Virginia, then took her close enough to Pittsburgh where I’d spent eight years as well. As she described her surroundings, I mentally moved along with her. and it helped me to relate fully to this book. But that's where the similarities ended.This comes about as close as you’re going to get into the lives of what some cruelly call white trailer trash, yet it is an intriguing story that kept me with it to the end. It took only the first few pages and I was hooked. After the next 20, I was somewhat unbelieving, yet still captivated.

As I turned each page I wanted to dislike this tale of dysfunction at its worst and family survival at its best, but I kept reading.

Having said that however, there are blaring signs that the author went too far in her embellishment of this story. I know I am going against the grain in saying anything bad about this book as it was received with rave reviews, yet I could not embrace it as others did. Not as a
biography anyway. Try fiction or 'based on the life of...'.

The very lack of emotion as Jeannette relates the more poignant moments suggests she’s taken a lot of artistic license in writing this book. At least it gave me that impression anyway. Telling of living in a small building without utilities through a winter and the building sliding down the mountainside — no feelings on that; it just happened. Or children coming by their home and taunting and calling out bad things; she didn’t have any feelings about this either, it seems.

I recall as a kid that I would be upset if I even imagined someone doing that, but if they actually did it, I sure felt many things. And certainly if I was going to write a book on my life, I would take that opportunity to tell how I felt in order to make the reader understand.

Walls relates how hard it was to get through years of hunger, but never once describes how she felt at the time, i.e."‘my stomach hurt so terribly and I felt so weak." Or, "I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep because my stomach was empty." These omissions, together with the author being able to quote verbatim whole conversations and dialogs from her earliest childhood, added to my disbelief. Can she possibly remember things that took place so long ago in such detail? There seems to be much fictionalizing along with her "memories." Perhaps she is her father’s daughter after all.

Which brings me to one more question. She tells us her father was a prolific storyteller and was always scribbling down his thoughts. Then later on, her mother finds all his stories written down. Yet Walls gives us no excerpts? Or never has them published?

And, where are the photos? I know not all books are published with photos in them, but this is a memoir and Jeannette tells us there were pictures taken of them as dirty kids living in the desert. Not even one on the book jacket?

The hardest part to swallow though, is that today she is married to writer John Taylor and currently working in New York City as a gossip columnist with MSNBC.com. She has also appeared regularly on television, including the Today Show, CNN, and PrimeTimeLive. She is enjoying a very privileged life today, yet her mother lives in destitution in the same city and she’s allowing her to live this way. According to Ms. Wall, allowing her mother her "spiritual freedom"? Really.

I wish Ms. Walls had been honest and just titled her book “The highly fictionalized, sort of loosely based memoir of my life”. Then I’d feel much better about calling it a biography.

reviewed February 6, 2007

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just now got around to reading the book on some friends' recommendation. I am, like you, having trouble suspending disbelief while, all the time, being captivated by the story. Thank you for your comments. Are we the only ones to see that this biography takes incredible liberties with the truth? Is Jeannette Walls going to be the next biographer outed as a fiction writer?

Ginger said...

Anon - I don't know, but I really couldn't accept so many things in her 'novel' as true. For one thing, they weren't poor. They chose the life they lived. Or at least the parents did. Remember, they were given a house to live in freely but opted out of that. Poor people aren't nearly that fortunate, to be given a house. And certainly not one on that grand a scale.

And her remarks about wanting her mother to be the free spirit she was.(?) We're talking about a form of mental illness here & Walls wants us to believe that she's letting her mother be free?
In this day & age, with paparazzi & media digging into the backgrounds of celebrities, how is it that Walls managed to keep this all secret until her husband talked her into writing a book about it to make money?

You're right. It's certainly captivating...like Watership Down or The Great Gatsby was. =)

Kristina Ramey said...

Trailer Trash. Interesting. Makes the arugment null and void in my opinion. Observations based through predjudice , no matter how educated , do not impress/sway me in the least.
I can totally believe in Jeannette's emotional indifference. Those children were not allowed to express any emotion growing up. If they did , it wouldn't matter because their parents would retort some ergo intellectual absurdities and that would be that !
Furthermore , my husband was born and raised in Logan , West Virginia and the lives of those children were no different than the unbelievable truths that have hailed from my husbands own mouth. I have been there myself and seen for myself.Fully loaded Semi Automatic weapons on couches within an arms reach of unsupervised toddlers. It is a different world. A sad repressed emotionless world where ordinary rules don't apply and children have to fight and fend for their self everyday.
My hat is off to Jeannette Walls for her motivation to rise above the hard life she was led to believe was "normal" and for allowing her mother to continue on her "adventure". We all know that we cannot help anyone who does not want to help themselves.

Ginger said...

Kristina;
Please don't misunderstand what I wrote & please don't presume my comment was derived from prejudice; it wasn't. The statement was made to project other's perception of what trailer trash might be.

I've already said I related to this book and that is because I lived near many of the places that Jeannette Walls lived. In fact, I was living in North Las Vegas when I read the book. I know the regions she spoke of very well and know the people of Nevada and West Virginia as well, having lived in southwestern Pennsylvania for eight years.

The poverty in W. Virginia is heart-rending and the people stoic and tough. That wasn't my issue. My issue was with her credibility, not that these things didn't exist there. I questioned whether she experienced them as stated. And if so, how could she have done so without any documentation or no depth of feeling whatsoever?

I know people of the desert. Many have moved away as long as 25 years ago and they still tell of the hardships of growing up in those areas. How hard it was to endure their everyday existence. What it was like going to school and trying to concentrate when they were so hungry they couldn't absorb what the teacher was saying. Or being beaten up by the wealthier kids and wishing they had warmer clothing...nicer clothing. All these things were told with emotion so strong it is tangible. I got none of this from Jeanettes telling; she could have been writing out a grocery list for all the passion I found in her book.

I myself had a very poor unbringing. So much so, that I quit school mid grade 9 to go out and work to help with things at home. I know little of a higher education and lots about poor. Enough to maybe even write a better book than this one.

chelsea 9th grade said...

hello i really enjoyed your book it was very sad to me but i liked it because it wasnt some fake story it really happened it expresses the life that you had to live. i think that your a very strong woman who won't stop until she gets what she wants, and thats what you have displayed by writing this book.dreams do come true and i believe yours did.


love always chelsea

Brittany Pritchett said...

I read the whole book in a day, finding it hard to put down. It hit close to home for me in several ways and I think if she would have written the book with tons of personal emotion she would have never finished it. You have to detach yourself from things sometimes to get through them. The truth is the truth and any emotion brought into it would have made it seem like she is still bitter. I think she has really worked it all out in her mind and come to a peace about her past. Kudos to someone who can live a life like that and see the positive rather than the negative.

Kate Bradshaw said...

I think that you may be right on some points. I'm sure she embellished her story at least once while writing it. But I don't think her lack of emotion while describing the events necessarily means she made them up. She had a very, VERY tough childhood. When you grow up from a childhood like that, with confused priorities and (when you get down to it) cruel parents, the only real way to cope with that is to shut your emotions off. I don't claim to be a psychologist, I am speaking from personal experience. At some point, you stop being able to feel emotions when you recall scarring events. The only way to move past it is to say "that happened, it's over, let's learn from it". That's why I found I loved this book. It was so frank and honest, without any whining about how horrible it all was. Maybe some people were looking for a sob story, but this isn't one. This is a story about a very tough woman, who has made it farther than anyone ever expected her to. Let's not put her down for marrying and having a comfortable life. Remember, you can't even begin to understand the things she went through. You claim to have had a poor childhood, and I'm sorry for that! But her childhood wasn't poor--they were downright destitute. It's not your fault that you can't understand her lack of emotion, of course. But don't criticize her for something you can never understand. I'm done with my rant, now. Thank you for listening.

Ginger said...

Kate;
Believe me when I say I know everything you're saying and my observation wasn't so much a criticism as it was just plain dubiousness. I think you've summed up very well what we do if our childhoods are less than ideal. We do tend to shut out unpleasant things, & yes, we do put them behind us and move on in life. But not if we're bringing them back to the forefront and writing them into a book that we've chosen to write. You can't relive these types of things no matter how tough we are without some modicum of emotion breaking through; especially if you are having to tell it again in detail for a book.

I did have a poor childhood but it wasn't the sort that left me wanting to write a book about it. I came out of it unscathed and relatively happy. And we were pretty poor in the literal sense; not dysfunctional, but just penny poor. Most of anything I would tell about would actually be more funny that bitter or sad.

As for her 'allowing' her mother to root through trash bins on the streets of NYC, I still can't swallow that she's just "letting Mom continue her adventure". That's like saying addicts families should allow their loved ones to continue their adventures too. It doesn't work for me. When family members need help, we try to do get them that help against all odds.

Mia said...

Read Glass Castle. Wrote my memoir in the following two months. I worked very hard at leaving my emotions out of the childhood experience. I didn't embellish. Having written it, I can argue Jeanette is no Liar. Why must writing be an emotional hashing? We had hard times; I wrote them funny, bitter and intense. It's not really difficult leaving therapy aside. I rather enjoyed it. That was one of the very reasons I love Jeanette's book--a romp through the bizarre as though it's all so very normal. yep. Mia

KJM said...

But her childhood wasn't poor--they were downright destitute...another poster said.

Actually, they had a comfortable home they inherited but walked away from it. Father quit job after job or was fired. Mother was self absorbed and did not WANT to work. Mother had land and jewelry she could have sold, but did not want to.
Now, how many of you who grew up poor, can say those things? Not many.
They were NOT destitute. Her parents CHOSE that life, just as her mother still does. There is a difference.

Ginger said...

Mia & KJM...
First Mia - I hesitated to respond to your comments because we all deal with things in our own ways.

I understand if you've chosen to leave your emotions out of your bio when you wrote, then you can relate to Jeanette & see her as being truthful. And I really didn't flat out say she was a liar - I said she was embellishing the truth which, if we're nit-picking, I suppose could be saying someone's a liar. That's a harsh title though, because we all tend to embellish a bit when relating something we want to make an impact with.

But she was writing a book about how terrible her life was. And how they suffered one thing after another for whatever reasons. She says (in an interview) that she tells her story with great empathy and compassion. Really?

If you're going for impact then you don't avoid how you felt while telling something. Even if you tried to remain calm and removed while writing, it's not going to happen as you relive these things. Unless of course you're totally zombied on something and we all know Jeanette isn't.

There are other things that are just too silly to believe, rich or poor. Like trying to make braces for her teeth because they were crooked. Any kid I've met that was walking barefoot to school in winter snow, wasn't worried about whether they were going to grow up with straight teeth!

She talks about people in Nevada taking pictures of the ratty kids and when she looks at them now it tears her up inside. If she has them why weren't they included in her personal narrative? It seems to me they would have the biggest impact to show how far she's come?

Like KJM said, they had opportunities that so many 'poor people' didn't and the mother decides a life on the streets rooting through garbage was the life she preferred. Does this not smack of deep emotional problems or even insanity? And if you were well-known, well paid,and well-to-do like Jeannette is and you waved off your mothers life style as being a free spirit, I say you're either lying in your book or you're someone who shouldn't be earning money from writing that line.

Since I wrote this review some months back, I've had the opportunity to see another interview with Jeannette. In this interview we also learned that there wasn't one person in Jeanettes life up until she married that had even an inkling of her childhood. Living in the spotlight like she does, don't you find that a bit odd in this day and age?

Her husband was the person who encouraged her to write a book about her life.

carolina Franco said...

Ginger,
Your reaction to this book strikes as overly emotional. Many people are quite removed from their feelings and cope with hard situations by intellectualizing. I have seen jeannette in interviews and she doesn't seem to be a very affected person. Which matches her writing style quite well. Maybe she is able to remember so many details because she is not lost in the emotion of the moment.
I too had a very difficult childhood but because I was so lost in my feelings I can not give so much detail.
I wish she had included photos but I saw a video of her mother and she certainly matched the character I read about in the book.
Also why should her personal life be public knowledge, she is not madonna and she didn't commit murder.
The fact that her past was not exposed before is not evidence of lying to me.

Ginger said...

Mia,
First Mia - I hesitated to respond to your comments because we all deal with things in our own ways.

I understand if you've chosen to leave your emotions out of your bio when you wrote, then you can relate to Jeanette & see her as being truthful. And I really didn't flat out say she was a liar - I said she was embellishing the truth which, if we're nit-picking, I suppose could be saying someone's a liar. That's a harsh title though, because we all tend to embellish a bit when relating something we want to make an impact with.

But she was writing a book about how terrible her life was. And how they suffered one thing after another for whatever reasons. She says (in an interview) that she tells her story with great empathy and compassion. Really?

If you're going for impact then you don't avoid how you felt while telling something. Even if you tried to remain calm and removed while writing, it's not going to happen as you relive these things. Unless of course you're totally zombied on something and we all know Jeanette isn't.

There are other things that are just too silly to believe, rich or poor. Like trying to make braces for her teeth because they were crooked. Any kid I've met that was walking barefoot to school in winter snow, wasn't worried about whether they were going to grow up with straight teeth!

She talks about people in Nevada taking pictures of the ratty kids and when she looks at them now it tears her up inside. If she has them why weren't they included in her personal narrative? It seems to me they would have the biggest impact to show how far she's come?

Like KJM said, they had opportunities that so many 'poor people' didn't and the mother decides a life on the streets rooting through garbage was the life she preferred. Does this not smack of deep emotional problems or even insanity? And if you were well-known, well paid,and well-to-do like Jeannette is and you waved off your mothers life style as being a free spirit, I say you're either lying in your book or you're someone who shouldn't be earning money from writing that line.

Since I wrote this review some months back, I've had the opportunity to see another interview with Jeannette. In this interview we also learned that there wasn't one person in Jeanette's life up until she married that had even an inkling of her childhood. Living in the spotlight like she does, don't you find that a bit odd in this day and age?

Her husband was the person who encouraged her to write a book about her life.

carolina Franco said...

Ginger,
Your reaction to this book strikes as overly emotional. Many people are quite removed from their feelings and cope with hard situations by intellectualizing. I have seen jeannette in interviews and she doesn't seem to be a very affected person. Which matches her writing style quite well. Maybe she is able to remember so many details because she is not lost in the emotion of the moment.
I too had a very difficult childhood but because I was so lost in my feelings I can not give so much detail.
I wish she had included photos but I saw a video of her mother and she certainly matched the character I read about in the book.
Also why should her personal life be public knowledge, she is not madonna and she didn't commit murder.
The fact that her past was not exposed before is not evidence of lying to me.

Jessica said...

I agree with Ginger that you seem a little over emotional.

I had a troubling childhood myself, with similar experiences to Jeannette in terms of neglect and lifestyle, and can relate very much to her story and to the way that she tells it.

I went to university and have a great job, and am married to an engineer. I have money and a house, and both of my parents are homeless and severe drug addicts in the same city as me (Toronto). I grew up taking care of myself and my siblings, and seeing horrible things, and having horrible things done to me. Today I have my own life and my own family, and have accepted that my parents will most likely always be the way they are, because only they can help themselves. You can't force people to change, and you can't control them.

It's true, it's just the way it was / is. And when you live it, it's normal, even when you know as a child that it's not.

You can't relate to the book on that level, and find it hard to believe, because you didn't go through anything like that. You say yourself that if you wrote a book about your life it would be upbeat and funny, because you were poor, but not neglected, and seem to have had a happy childhood with a functional family. There's a big difference.

Everyone experiences things differently, even you acknowledge this, but you seem to not be able to accept this, as you still have expectations about the way one should feel about their own memories and experiences, and even the way they would choose to write about them. Even the fact that she didn't include certain pictures bothers you...

I think that you just don't understand, and can't accept this fact, and so want to believe that the author must be embellishing (um, living near a certain place, or knowing people who live there, is NOT the same as experiencing it yourself for your entire life).

Perhaps your reaction to the book is simply evidence that you are actually quite disturbed by it, and wish that the author had shared more.

Jessica said...

Oops, I meant that I agree with Carolina Franco.

b said...

Ginger,
It's unfair to make false accusations that she completely embellished the story when you have absolutely no proof of it besides the fact that you lived in similar places as her (which she obviously lived in as a child, so please excuse her for not having every detail correct)and because of the fact that you were also poor. I believe that it is downright wrong that your judgement on this book is so biased because you are trying to relate it to you're life, when you should look at the book and it's quality as a whole. Also you talk about the fact that she doesn't show emotion. It became apparent to me in the early stages of reading this book that it was not to complain, saying things such as "I felt so weak and hungry", but simply to inform the readers of what happened. It is perhaps possible that she doesn't even remember the times she felt that way or it is also possible that she felt that way so often that there was no use in mentioning it. She, as an author, I'm sure had reasoning behind her style of writing and if she feels as if it's not necessary to include minute details that is her prerogative.

Lisa Solod Warren said...

It's funny this book is still being discussed as truth or not. The book was written some long time ago and has never been disproved as true memoir. As far as I am concerned, the issues is long closed. Walls wrote her story; even her siblings, as far as I know, have not disproved it. It may seem fantastic, but I think we all know that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

Ginger said...

[quoting B] -
[It's unfair to make false accusations that she completely embellished the story when you have absolutely no proof of it besides the fact that you lived in similar places as her (which she obviously lived in as a child, so please excuse her for not having every detail correct)and because of the fact that you were also poor. I believe that it is downright wrong that your judgement on this book is so biased because you are trying to relate it to you're life, when you should look at the book and it's quality as a whole.]

Why do you think I'm being unfair for saying how I felt about a book? Isn't that what book critics do?
And how do you know that I'm making false accusations when, [to quote you again], you have absolutely no proof of it"?

None of us have any sure way of knowing whether she embellished or was perfectly honest, anymore than you know whether I'm right or wrong in feeling the way I do about the book. I did say I enjoyed the book, don't forget. I just had a problem with it being called a memoir because she could have easily written it as a fictional book based on events in her childhood, but she chose to say it was a memoir and all contents being true. The book has invoked a lot of feelings from a lot of reader - which is why, Lisa, we're still talking about it. =)

My feeling was that she missed the mark in being believable by being too matter of fact about some of the really heavy stuff. Now I know you're going to argue that it was 'the only way she could get through those years', but having read many autobiographies and memoirs and listening to the author tell of reliving those years to get the book written, bad events come back to them like a sledgehammer to the brain. I just can't buy Walls blasé in telling her story today.
As an example, she talked about the book in an interview after it was finished & when asked if other family members remembered things the way she did, she said of her brother Brian -
It's interesting, because we remembered some of the same events, but had different takes on them. For example, I think of the cheetah as being a gorgeous, powerful beast with rippling muscles. Brian said, "As I remember, that was as a sort mangy creature." I ran that by Mom and she said, "It was both, but it wasn't inside a cage. It was just walking around the zoo." People remember the same things differently, and if Brian or my sisters had written the book, it would be entirely different.
I have no doubt.

chloe said...

ginger, your main argument is that jeannette lacks passion and emotion, and yet if you read the book, you will note that the only way that the walls found that they could cope with their struggles was to shut out their emotions. it was a way to get through their many obstacles, and yet you criticize her and claim that she is fictionalizing her memoir. cant you simply accept the fact that jeannette has overcame so much, and although her mother is homeless, that is her life, and i am sure that if she wished to have a more successful life, she very well could. it cant be nice to see all these people disagreeing with your testimony that "the glass castle" is, as you so politely put it, "The highly fictionalized, loosely based memoir of my life".

Ginger said...

chloe -
>>it cant be nice to see all these people disagreeing with your testimony that "the glass castle" is, as you so politely put it, "The highly fictionalized, loosely based memoir of my life".<<

Actually it doesn't bother me one whit! I wrote the review/critique/commentary on the book based on how I personally felt about it, not to win popularity contests. The fact that others feel differently is quite fine by me. In fact, I expect they would because the book in my opinion was written to extract the exact responses it's getting. Still doesn't make it true however. I wasn't trying to change anyone's mind - I was stating how I felt about her book. There have been many books written to elicit those same feelings but they don't profess to be the honest truth. Little Women, Angela's Ashes, Gone With The Wind...Terms of Endearment...et al.

And please don't take offense at this, but this statement you made is incredibly naive - "cant you simply accept the fact that jeannette has overcame so much, and although her mother is homeless, that is her life, and i am sure that if she wished to have a more successful life, she very well could.

How do you propose she do that? If her own daughter, with all her money doesn't make efforts to pay for the help she needs to get well & off the streets eating out of dumpsters, then who? The shelters, the kitchens & churches are absolutely stressed to the max trying to take care of these unfortunate people that are out there & Ms. Wall, who has undoubtedly made gobs of money from her novelette by now, won't cough up enough money to help her own mother? If we are to believe all this, I mean.

Chloe, I have worked with the organizations in NY & in Philadelphia & my husband & I are doing so right now over the holidays. There are none - N.O.N.E. who prefer that life to one affording them the simple animal comforts like warm clothing & a clean bed to sleep in.

Volunteer your services over this holiday season why don't you? It's quite an education. Then come back & tell me again (providing we're to believe the book) just how much respect you have for a woman who can leave her mother on the streets of NYC. If you still do after all that, then maybe I have you pegged wrong.

bella said...

I'm in ninth grade and I read this book for an English project, and loved it. It didn't once cross my mind that her writings or memories were false, and I was blown away by her honest and blunt writing style. I agree with Chloe in thinking that the reason her book lacks passion and emotion is that she grew up without judgement and emotion. I really loved and was touched by "The Glass Castle", and I appreciate that Jeannette Walls had the courage to tell her story to the world. I also appreciate how you have stuck by your opinions, but I don't think you are right in saying that "The Glass Castle" was fictionalized.

Ginger said...

Thanks for your comment, Bella. I may someday reread the book & feel differently, but for now, whether I do or I don't, matters little here. This was how I felt after I read it & this was what I posted...my feelings about what I'd read.

I did find the book fascinating to read. It was a good story which kept my interest. That being said it is also a story none of us will ever know for sure is true or false, so we're left with only our impressions.

You are gracious in allowing me my opinion & I thank you for that & I allow you yours. =)

annbca said...

Ginger, I am reading The Glass Castle and I agree with you, something just doesn't ring true. Right away, when she describes being 3 years old and in the hospital with severe burns, she is describing what a 6 year old might be thinking, but what would be impossible for a 3 year old. We all only have the faintest memories from that age because our brains have not developed enough to create such memories. Also, burns are among the most painful of injuries, but she never describes being in pain. I think she embellished a LOT!

Ginger said...

annbca, exactly! There are so many little things exactly like that in the book that add up to it being far-fetched...that's a kinder word I suppose. I think people were so touched by this book & don't want to believe it's been fictionalized to do exactly that.

Lillian said...

My mom, her brother, and sister were kidnapped at a young age. It was an internal kidnapping. My blood grandmother got divorced from my blood grandfather and married a new man. The two of them kidnapped my mom, her brother, and sister from my blood grandfather and his new wife (my step grandmother). For years they were on the run. The children were beaten, raped, molested, and forced into terrible situations beyond comprehension. My mom, her sister, and her brother did not see my grandfather again until they were in the twenties. Think about that: this happened for fifteen years of their lives because they were kidnapped around the age of five years old. They grew up poor, hungry, without a Christmas, and living very similar to the way that Jeanette Walls lived.

That being said, it is not hard for me to imagine that Jeanette went through these things. My family has had a worse history and everyone just laughs about it. No one ever went to therapy. No one ever tried to make anyone feel sorry for our situation. That is why it is not hard for me to imagine that Jeannette is telling the truth. If you really have been through pain, like my family has, the best cure for it is laughter. If you don't laugh, then you will perish; literally. Everything will fall apart. You can't face yourself in the mirror everyday knowing that you've been raped. You just have to laugh about it and move on.

My real dad was an alcoholic. I could tell you some gruesome stories. My step dad came from an abusive family. I have a whole family of charity cases. Do they ever complain about it? No. Do they use their experiences to teach their children how NOT to be in life? Yes. So, until you have had a tough experience where you have had to live through years of torture and sadness (such as my step grandmother going insane from taking too many prescription drugs) I don't think that you should be the one to criticize Jeanette Walls for her experiences.

This may seem a bit harsh, but growing up poor builds character. I grew up poor myself. My parents grew up poor. What defines a person is how they are able to overcome their situation. Despite the hardships in my family, everyone has done very well for themselves; but they worked hard for it. Criticizing Jeannette Walls for having a good job is a little immature. Think about how hard she had to work for that. I know that my parents had to work three jobs each for TEN years JUST so that we could afford to eat.

Anyway, this review may seem a little harsh but I am just trying to get you to think about what you are saying. You don't have to agree with me, but having lived pretty much the same life, and having come from a family where they have also lived the same life, her portrayal of her situation actually seems pretty normal. If she embellished anything, she made things appear happier than they really were. But let's face it; who wants to deal with the emotional baggage of that situation? So I think I can give her a break.

Ginger said...

Lillian - first might I say the tale you have related here is absolutely horrible. We know things like this occur. We read about them in papers & hear cases on TV sadly all too often. And I wasn't questioning whether this could happen to anyone, because I know it can. I am questioning whether it happened to her. There is a difference. I feel it didn't happen to her - my reason being that she was relating it all with absolute lack of feelings & emotion.

I'm sure if your Mom or your aunt & uncle were to sit down & try to tell of their lives & the horrors they had to endure, they wouldn't leave out how they felt at the time. Remembering the hunger pangs, remembering the healing from physical hurts & hopefully the longer healing from the emotional ones would be brought back to the forefront of their minds when dredging up all these events. They couldn't help not telling how sad, or embarrassed or even about the joy when it was over & what lessons they took from it.
Anyone going thru' the terrible things as your family has, would have scars that no amount of character could hide.

As for "going thru" things & having them build character, yes it really does do that. And I'm not just guessing at that. The product of an alcoholic father myself, I went to live with my grandparents at age four. Grandparents who knew the meaning of poor. My grandfather made $24. a week as a part time custodian at the high school. Our rent was $100.00 per month. The math should tell the story. Years of taking in boarders kept them barely solvent but they still took in my brother & I.

I was left side paralyzed & have fought for eight years to get the use of my arm & hand back. If I had to write a book about that today, it certainly wouldn't be without emotion. Character means you're stronger, Lillian, not that you're an emotional zombie.

Aside from all that, my skepticism still comes from two other things besides just her lack of emotion. The one brother of hers, when asked about the contents of her book was quick to say he didn't want to comment but did make some oblique remark about *everyone sees a tiger differently*.

My other query is why she didn't feel a need to write this book at all until her new husband told her she stood to make loads of money by doing it & got her a writing coach?

I'm afraid I have to stand by my first impressions - good read, yes - it kept me entertained, but as a memoir? No.

Lillian said...

I can see what you are getting at. I guess there are some places in the book where it does seem a little amazing that what she described actually happened. Memoirs are a hard subject to approach because everyone remembers things differently. Even my mom, sister, and brother have varying opinions about what happened to them when they were kidnapped. My mom knows what happened to her, but her real father doesn't want to believe that half of the things that happened to her are true, so he ignores them, and pretends like nothing ever happened. I get a lot of this in my family; people pretending like things never happened, which is frustrating, and quite frankly, makes me feel kind of like I am left out of a lot of crucial family stories/ business.

The point I am trying to make is, that the only truth we know as people is our own. What is true for Walls may not have been true for her siblings or her parents. The only accurate way to tell a memoir is to have it be written from five different points of view, of all the people you intend to include in it, but then again, that wouldn't really be a memoir, and the stories would all be so vastly different that the book would have no order or sense to it at all.

I would argue that no one has ever truly written an authentic memoir or auto biography because there is no way of capturing the ultimate truth when there are so many interpretations of it. In regards to Walls, I think that she wrote the best that she could, given the fact that she had so many repressed memories and probably still has a hard time dealing with those feelings, even though she claims that she is numb to them.

I know that is I were to sit down and write about my family one day there would be a lot of contradictions. My family is full of odd dark secrets and layers of lies they would prefer still stay lies. How do you think it feels for me to live my life in a family, where half of my relatives deny what happened and the other half just make jokes about it? It makes me feel crappy, to be honest. No one ever wants to take our problems seriously, except for my grandfather, but I rarely get to talk to him. I knew that if I wrote a memoir I'd start off by saying, "I'd really like to tell you about my family, but I've been raising myself and my sister since I was eight years old, and do know anything about anyone else because it is privileged information I never had any access to. All I know is that growing up in a Norwegian family, everyone always had a worse life than I could ever hope to have and I shouldn't waste my time complaining about it."

Ginger said...

Lillian:
Yes, you're right! Even within my own family how things touched them were retold in a much different matter. But they still did overlap & basically concur with fact in the larger picture. My grandmother for instance, will tell you my father wasn't an alcoholic at all,that he just enjoyed having a good time & he drink often because of that. But it amounts to the same thing...he drank himself to death at the age of 52. With Walls, her siblings didn't want to touch what she said in her book because I think they perhaps they didn't want to be perceived as calling her a liar in public.

However, there were a number of child psychologists who've studied the book & said it was virtually impossible for a child of 2 or 3 to remember in such detail the things she 'recalled' in her book. Especially things that most children cared little about in the first place...like the color of a relatives house or whether an aunt was on a diet?

The book really can be picked apart if you can get past the emotion it pulls from the reader.

Kat said...

I remember conversations that took place when I was 4 or 5 years old. I am known in my family as a walking encyclopedia, and I still surprise friends from years ago what I still remember about them. I have a good memory for detail, and some people do have photographic memories. They never forget. I used to remember dates of the movie star's birthdays from the almanac and the Academy Awards before I was 9 years old. I remember watching the Academy Awards back in 1973 with Liza Minnelli. Yes, some people can remember stuff when they were very young. I just retain information, and I could answer many questions on Jeopardy at a young age.

Ginger said...

Kat - so can I. I amazed my mother once with details of my birthday cake...my first year birthday cake. I can recall sitting in my high chair & my mother carrying the cake to my chair & smiling. I can recall that it was white with green icing garland around the top. And I can recall how I *felt* about it at that time. Not having a full grasp of what was happening but being fascinated by it all & marveling at the fire on top of the cake! Knowing it was okay because my mother was smiling - I wasn't afraid - I was safe.
I can also recall very well how I *felt* about that entire episode & if I were going to write a book about my early years which included that, I would be more apt to write about my feelings of that, than just list the physical details of the cake & chair without the emotional side.
My issue is more of someone having a horrendous life like Walls alleges she had, a person having a great mind for the detail of it, but never once saying how she *felt* about those events. Good or bad. Sad or happy. Angry or otherwise. Nada. I just don't find myself able to believe that.

Lucy Bollock said...

I completely agree with you, Ginger. I'm reading the book right now and I'm annoyed as hell by it. I couldn't put my finger on it until I read Ginger's review " the lack of emotion and the feeling I’m being put on. Jeannette is in the hospital with terrible burns and there is no mention of pain? Then there is the unbelievable stuff that seems written for shock value: She peels her scabs and has them talk to each other? Give me a break.

Reading this book feels like voyeurism - I'm not getting any insight from it - just one shocking story after another. I'm not sure what is real and what is fictionalized. Jeannette gets brutally beaten on a regular basis in the schoolyard in W. Virginia and nobody notices? It reminds me of a kid who gets attention by telling something shocking and so continues to try to shock and amaze you with more and more exaggerated stories. There is just such a “La De Dah” attitude as she describes the long strange trip of her childhood. The kids went through every form of hell before they moved into a nice home and yet none of them put up a fight when the parents blithely announce they’re heading out?

In contrast, there are some great memoirs " one is Road Song by Natalie Kunz. She has a hellish childhood and while she doesn't blame her parents (and is criticized for it by some reviewers), there is emotion and truth inherent in the tale. I never once doubted what she wrote.

Ginger said...

Lucy - thank you. I was beginning to think there was no-one out there who understood exactly what I was trying to express. You have obviously felt the same thing I did while reading. Gripping *fiction*.

There is also Jeannettes brother who appeared on a talk show about a year after the books release & while he didn't say the book was fictionalized or that it was lies, he did say that Jeannette had remembered things very much differently than the rest of the siblings. Nobody else has come forward to refute him either...including Jeannette.

I also read Road Song & found it such a mix of pure emotion, told in a way that took you there -like what I'd expect from someone going thru' any traumatic time. That book I would highly recommend to anyone!

Julie said...

Ginger, I just finished The Glass Castle and agree that Walls has written a great piece of fiction - and it's clearly fiction, not a realistic memoir. From the first chapter, it felt embellished and "pumped-up" with one horrifying story after another. The shock factor was quite effective, and it kept me reading, but I did not walk away believing that I had read a true story. Your instincts are correct. I will not be surprised when Jeannette Walls' story is eventually proven to be just that -- a story.

Syd said...

Dear Ginger,

I just finished reading this book, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. Something just doesn't seem quite right. While I don't have a problem giving an author leeway to "pad" a story where memories may fade or get fuzzy, there comes a point when it is simply wrong. Also, it just seemed too ready-made...or something. While I don't doubt this woman lived in poverty and had a less than ideal childhood, something just doesn't ring true. Some things did though -- like the markers on legs to keep from making patches for pants. That seemed true to me.

And since I grew up in rural Kentucky, I don't doubt the poverty of West Virginia, but her whole description of that area and the cliches and the stereotypes were just annoying. Like the whole Denitia episode seemed made up. Maybe it's not the "facts" but the writing style that made it seem unrealistic... I don't know.

I did enjoy reading the book, but there were obvious missing pieces to the puzzle (what's the deal with Maureen and Eric and oh yeah, I got married again to John...) and embellishments that were hard to swallow.

While I hope I'm wrong, my gut tells me otherwise. Or maybe I am wrong, and she's just not a very sophisticated writer. A lot of people like that style, including myself on occasion.

Sam Sanchez said...

Jan 11, 2011

ill say what none of you have balls to say "she's a lying bitch".

Ginger said...

@ Sam - I like a man of few words. =)

In my case, when I wrote the review, it wasn't a matter of not having the balls to say what you've just said. It was a matter of trying to review as fairly as I could without turning people away from what I was saying for fear they looked upon me as being nonobjective.

What it really boils down to, is the description of this book as a memoir or just being honest about it & saying it was a book based loosely on some events in her life. To try & believe, for instance, that a woman could become a very successful television personality & then marry a man who was equally successful in his own right, yet drive by her own mother rooting through trash cans on a NYC street without making an effort to get the woman help...well, personally, if that were true, then I certainly don't want to add to her bank account! But I highly doubt there is much truth in what she's written. It is my opinion after all this time that her & her husband have found a way of making even more money with this book by tapping into peoples compassionate nature. I am compassionate, but not a fool!

karin said...

Just finished the book and I agree with you, Ginger. Too many details for a 3 year old. My granddaughter is 3.5 and would not talk or think like that little girl, and she's pretty advanced. I believe a lot of the scenarios she wrote about did possibly happen, but a lot did not, or were so embellished they lost accurate details. You cannot possibly remember all the details about how you felt when you were 3,4,5,6,7, etc..... and retain them well enough to write about them as an adult. I compare this book to "A Million Little Pieces". Good, easy reading though, makes me appreciate what I have now.

Anonymous said...

I had an extremely difficult time reading this book because I felt as if I was being lied to. I completely agree that it was a great book, but not a great memoir. Some of the things she claims happened to her, are way too far-fetched. Also, it goes without saying that the conversations she had a clearly loosely based on actual conversations because there is no way anyone could possibly remember conversations from when they were three years old! I really would have liked the book, but I just couldn't get past the fact that I felt she wasn't being truthful. If she wrote the book with intentions of having some fiction in it I would have been okay with it.

~Ginger~ said...

@ Anonymous - you make a lot of good points. The book was *interesting* to read there's no doubt. I couldn't deny that fact. But when I did my review it was more to address the fact that she was claiming it as her life and people were believing that. That fact bothered me greatly for some reason. I guess I just hate seeing liars rewarded?
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

Shut up ginger...or who ever the hell you are, and since when do we hear of "these" stories?!? if we heard of them as often as we hear about celebs and stupid reality tv shows like jersey shore and the kardashians...then we would have a better understanding of what IS really going on in the world. Who are you to judge Jeanette Walls for lack of emotion...? And if you claim we hear about these stories so much...what the hell are you doing sitting on your ass complaining about lack of emotion, when you could be doing something about the situation? ... You people these days...go do something valuable with your life and stop questioning someone else's.

Ginger said...

Well, to begin with, brave 'anonymous' who doesn't have the courage to stand behind their remarks with an actual name, I am doing what I do - I review books & music, among other things. I'm not trolling message boards & comments sections of web sites looking for things or posters to attack. Or to generally speak, just stir things up.
I gave my opinion of the book...what I thought was an honest evaluation & not deserving of personal attacks.

I know very little about reality shows or anything else similar to that because I don't watch them or talk about them, so you won't see any comments from me about that.

As for doing valuable things with my life, I volunteer almost all my free time to shelters...both the human & animal kind. I also help out one morning a week at a hospital, taking part in a support group for the disabled. Because you see, I am disabled & I feel my experience is valuable to helping others deal with it.
So now self annointed savior of the world, you do what for the betterment of our planet....?

For the consideration of family & friends...

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