I’m reading Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, which opens with Walls, an accomplished writer, seeing her mother digging through a dumpster on the streets of New York City. Memories of an impoverished, unstable — yet not unloving — childhood come flooding back. Walls and her three siblings grew up constantly doing “the skedaddle” — moving from one town to the next, often in the middle of the night, to avoid debt collectors, angry landlords, school officials and the like. Her alcoholic, chronically unemployed father dreamed of striking it rich with “The Prospector,” a device designed to find gold. Her mother, an aspiring painter, prided herself on her “career” and encouraged the children to fend for themselves. (Walls, at age three, burned herself severely while cooking hot dogs. Upon her return home from the hospital, there was nothing to eat and she found herself once again using the stove. “Good for you,” her mother said to her. “You’ve got to get back in the saddle!”)
The book is ludicrous, funny, and heart-wrenching, often at the same time. I’m not finished with it yet, and even though I know the ultimate outcome, I’m curious to see how it is that Walls makes her way to New York City and relates to her parents as an adult.