Dad’s drunk, mom is crazy, and there’s never any food

Last modified: Thursday, June 05, 2014
Have you ever had a book that kept you reading, late, late late into the night? That was so hard to put down, you risked being super tired in the morning because you had to find out what happens next? I’ve been blessed with such a book, that came to me first through Cindy and then my daughter Kate. It’s called The Glass Castle, and it was written by Jeanette Walls.The story is about a family that’s headed by a roaring drunk, and co-piloted by a loony artist who sticks with the terrible drunk no matter how terrible he gets. There’s mom, and older sister Lori, and narrator Jeanette and two younger siblings. The family can’t get enough food because Dad can’t keep a job. In matter-of-fact detail, we live for a while in this topsy-turvy world, where dinner is popcorn for three days, and sustenance is found in the trashcans at school, where fortunately kids chuck out perfectly good food. We never know when Dad might declare that it’s time to ‘do the skeedaddle,’ and we’d be packed up in minutes and tearing out of town.It’s a progression of settings, from the desolate desert town of Battle Mountain Nevada, to a house they inherit in downtown Phoenix, then the horrifying poverty and chill of Welch, West Virginia. Through it all the kids are attacked and hassled by schoolmates because they smell and because their clothes hang off of them. Mom refuses to get the kids glasses, believing ‘eyes should heal themselves’ and refuses to shut the doors or windows at night ‘because air circulation is important,’ so bums wander in and the littlest kid is terrified in her bed. Defying logic and sense, Mom is bafflingly, benignly neglectful, and they somehow muddle through.The family listens to Dad as he builds up that Glass Castle in their minds; their future home that he will build them, a foundation hole that symbolically becomes their garbage dump. While living in squalor or being chased by the law, the family uniformly allows this chimera to guide them, and only young Brian has the nerve to mutter his skeptical view. Dad’s a drunk, Mom’s plain crazy, and there is no food–and no money at all. It’s tough reading about life without heat in the hardscrabble down and out village of Welch. Yet through it all, the family’s bonds remain strong, and they fight the bullies and the world that’s out to get them with relish.