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The Glass CastleReview - The Glass Castle
A Memoir
by Jeannette Walls
Scribner, 2005
Review by A.P. Bober
Nov 20th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 47)

Would well-dressed you feel mortified seeing your mother rooting for a blue-light special in a dumpster?  Overdressed Jeanette quickly slid down the cab's naugahyde for fear of being seen.  Subsequently, in a restaurant, her mother pursing dried Chinese noodles and packets "for a later snack," mom confronts baby Jeanette about looking down her bourgeois nose, asking, in response to "What do you need?," for electrolysis to pretty herself up.  What should she tell people, Jeanette asks, who inquire about her parents?  "Just tell the truth about us." 

Which of the hundred stark enough for almost as many lifetimes?  That sometimes sober dad taught the kids binary, once untranslated into Arabic numerals by Jeanette before class to the dismay of the elementary school teacher?  Or that he studied chaos theory?  Or her mother's reciting Shakespeare and becoming a huggy humanist at the kids' school when the desperate town hired her?  Or that she worked through Balzac?

The smartest of her kids helped her to keep the job:  "Mom, double Ls in 'Halloween'."  And double Es and no silent E at the end.

Oh, but don't worry!  This is just the beginning.  There are still ninety true stories left, many less cheering.  As when her mother let her three-year-old daughter catch on fire cooking hotdogs by herself tippy-toe on a stool at the stove.  The worried looks of the nurses doing a social-services survey.  The knife drunken dad tossed hand to hand opposite the one mom first pulled on him from the kitchen drawer.  Do we take the children away from a father who went inside the fence to pet a cheetah responding like your fluffy and who then invited the kids to participate?  Or from the mother who gave them lard sandwiches to take to school, the children learning to scavenge better food abandoned by other kids?

Her parents refused to let them believe in Santa Claus.  No dependency or whining privileges for them, or, one might surmise, commercialized Superego.

A gap haunts the pages of The Glass Castle.  It seems not the lacuna of parental love.  Rather, it may be the tension, the stretch, resulting from the internalized breadth of unconventional parental behavior.  The mixture of chance, love, and "dysfunction" may remind you of episodes closer to your own home.

This is real life, folks!  And real feeling.

© 2007 Anthony P. Bober

A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view.  His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields.  Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.


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