by Jeannette Walls, 2006, Scribner, New York
This book is a bit hard to fathom. There are elements that ring true and then there are things that seem to be a bit of a stretch.
Walls’ parents seemed to be extremely intelligent and loving, but also suffered from an extreme inability to cope with society and modern day life. While some would call it mental illness, the fact is that there are many individuals in our society who seem to have some form of this, although not to this extreme. It manisfests itself in a distrust of all forms of authority and a total disdain for the “normal” ways of life. The usual result is that these individuals end up being much less successful in terms of their standard of living and other achievements. The book does a good job of describing just how poorly decisions are made and the corresponding poor results. In the case of the author’s family, the result is that they live in poverty and squalor, despite their considerable talents and opportunities.
Walls does a good job of bringing out her parents’ characters. Despite their obvious shortcomings as parents, she continues to love each of them and recounts numerous situations where she connects with them. Her father and mother each have their good points, love their children, and are not abusive to them in any way. They are, however, complete failures in their ability to properly provide for their offspring.
I found that I could understand the author’s love of her parents while she recounts their defects. I could not, however, understand her acceptance of their behavior. She seems, for the most part, to “go along for the ride” and accept whatever they do, no matter how ridiculous their actions are. She strikes out on her own to make herself successful, but she never seems to stand up to her parents and put her foot down, rather just accepting that this is the way they are. One example of this is that she continued to give her father money for booze when the rest of the family was starving. Maybe this illustrates how much the power her love of her father had over her, but I thought that, just for once, she could have and should have told him no.
Anyway, I thought the book was fairly well written and told a story of a situation that is probably more common than most would think possible. At the same time, I felt that, for some reason, it didn’t all ring true. I finished the book thinking that maybe in the author’s mind, this was the way it was, but time has a tendency to make one look at the past a bit differently from what actually transpired. I think this may be the case in this memoir.