Length: 288 pages
Source: Local Library
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4.5/5
First Line: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.
I've avoided reading this for a while because I was afraid of it. From other reviews it sounded pretty gritty and traumatizing. I also don't really like memoirs. I'm too mistrustful of memoir writers. I feel like they're lying to me or embellishing the facts or making themselves into heroes. I probably would have left it alone forever if it had not been chosen for a book club. It turns out that I either trust Jeannette Walls, or she told such a gripping account that I forgot to doubt her.
I suppose it's funny that I should be so believing of such an unimaginable account. It would make sense for me to insert here a few examples of the appalling situations Jeannette and her siblings find themselves in as a result of the unconventional lifestyle of their parents. But I figure those who have read it already know. And for those who haven't, I don't want to lessen the impact by sharing bits and pieces out of their proper order. Walls unfolds her story perfectly, and the reader grows and learns and survives with her.
Walls withholds judgment of her parents in such a way that made me as reader need to compensate for it. I was ANGRY with her parents. Very angry. I believe that Jeanette's parents threw off the burdens of parenthood and let them fall on the shoulders of their children. They did this in the name of teaching their children self-sufficiency. I'm all for teaching my children to be independent. But in this case, it only served as a justification for their extreme selfishness.
Am I too harsh? I wasn't able to go to the book club, so I don't know if others felt the same. Both parents were clearly mentally ill. Alcoholism and depression smothered much of what was positive about their approach to raising kids. But I can't bring myself to excuse some of the things they did or allowed to happen. Am I a perfect mother myself? Absolutely not. But I have to say that reading this book puts my ugly moments into perspective.
Thankfully, Jeanette and her siblings were molded into strong and successful adults despite and/or as a result of their experiences. What makes the memoir bearable is the survival story of these remarkable children. One thing I've learned about parenting is that one and one don't always equal two. The equation is complex with too many variables to predict what the product will be. But we still try to do our best with the tools we have, and love our children the best way we know how. I suppose in some way, that's what the Walls parents did. I'm just grateful that I have at least a few more "tools" than they had--food, shelter, and mental health (most of the time, anyway.)
On a somewhat related note--Happy Mother's Day!