Saturday, October 12, 2019

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

Self-determination isn't tidy. Jeannette Walls provides a glimpse of how untidy it can get in her book titled The Glass Castle, as she and her siblings grow up in rural Virginia with a mom and dad who choose concept over reality, superfluous over security, and homelessness over shelter.

In a scene where Jeannette and her brother Brian find a 2-carat diamond ring that could potentially save their family, their mother announces the ring would not be sold so that it could replace her own wedding ring that her husband had pawned years ago. When Jeannette argues that the ring could feed and house the family, her mother says "Thats's true, but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food."

Eventually, Jeannette gets herself to New York to attend college on scholarships and loans. Her parents follow her, with no jobs and no housing. Just free will and self-determination to live in New York. On its streets. 

During a college class discussion about homelessness, Jeannette's professor asks her to choose: Is it the result of drug abuse and misguided entitlement programs OR is it the result of cuts in social-service programs and the failure to create economic opportunity for the poor? When she is called upon to respond, Jeannette says "Sometimes, I think it's neither ... I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want."

Because Jeanette's response picks neither side of the polarized argument, she is pressured in the moment to either pick a side or to yield to those who know more about homelessness. She yields.

As untidy as this world is, Walls seems to present how ironically it carries a righteous facade about morality. About how certain types of parents ought to be denounced. How certain types of lifestyles ought to be shamed ... like the lifestyle of Ginnie Sue, the town whore. When Jeannette is invited over by Kathy, Ginnie Sue's daughter, she finds her hungry self at their dinner table to help devour a roasted chicken. As she reflects on this visit, Jeannette says "While I was sitting there talking to Ginnie Sue, I'd even forgotten she was a whore. One thing about whoring: It put a chicken on the table."

Walls has an ability to present the truths of growing up with parents with a distorted sense of free will (at the cost of responsibility). And how such truths are filled at times with true pain and also true love. Neither one or the other. But all of the above.

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