29 March 2010

Book 6 of 2010

I finished this book on the furlough day before returning from Spring Break. The only reason I finished it was because it was required reading for my Educational Psychology class.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

6) The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls recounts her childhood with two sisters, a brother and parents who are so out of their gourd nuts that it's amazing that any of the kids amounted to anything, let alone one being a published writer.

The matter-of-fact way Walls relates the hardships and horror stories her family faced and their parents forced upon them reminds me of all the things I grew to hate about Augusten Burroughs' stories. Very little of what's offered in The Glass Castle rings true, even if every single event occurred exactly as Walls writes it. Maybe it was the way the story felt set in the moment, not told from a perspective of time passed but with a narrator whose voice felt the same age as the character experiencing the story, that made it feel false. Almost all current memoirs follow a tale of redemption arc, where the main character experiences humble beginnings only to make good by the end. This book follows that arc to the letter.

What I found most annoying was the painstaking detail with which she discusses the family's beginnings, remembering every moment and conversation from the age of three, yet some of the interesting aspects of her later life are glossed over to a maddening degree. Oh, you graduated college from an Ivy League school and got married and divorced, you say? It would be nice if there was some elaboration there, especially considering the amount of time spent on how ugly she felt growing up. Instead, here are some more scenes with her obviously mentally ill parents. The whole thing comes off as twee and cloying, amounting misery to romanticism when it should really be horrifying.

It's appropriate that I read this book concurrently with David Shields' Reality Hunger - A Manifesto since Shields discusses the idea of memoir at length in the fourth chapter. He calls the recent offerings of the pop-lit genre "million-dollar, career-exploding, trick-tease train of ... so-called "misery lit" (also called misery porn) memoirs" into question. He explains in words better used than mine that mostly fictional accounts of real-life events are called memory so that the reader can feel better about themselves while publishers can attach a face to the angst. Everybody wins! Shields puts it best when he writes, "What I believe about memoir is that you just happen to be using the nuts and bolts of your own life to illustrate your vision. It isn’t really me; it’s a character based on myself that I made up in order to illustrate things I want to say. In other words, I think memoir is as far from real life as fiction is. I think you’re obligated to use accurate details, but selection is as important a process as imagination."

Again, I don't know enough about Jeannette Walls to say her story isn't true; it just didn't feel that way to me.

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