Have any of you read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls? If you haven’t, you must because it is an unbelievable (in all senses) autobiography of a girl and her three siblings growing up with parents who are so neglectful that it borders on child abuse. Her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, drag their children around America from one small mining town to another; their father, brilliant when sober, drinks most of their money away, and their mother harbours artistic desires that prevent her from ever holding down a real job – “I’m an excitement addict,” her mother says. So the children bring themselves up against the most impossible odds, surviving by doing things like sleeping in cardboard boxes, eating margarine and cat food and hiding money away from their father.
Somehow Jeannette Walls manages even to bring humour into the story that left me with my mouth gaping open sometimes. She also somehow speaks of her parents with affection and most of all, she somehow managed to drag herself out of that situation and lead a normal life with a good job in New York when she grew up.
If for nothing else, read the book for the opening chapter. It gripped me straight away.
So back to Half Broke Horses – this is the story of Jeannette Walls’ grandmother, Lily Casey. Walls calls it a “true-life novel”, as it is her grandmother’s story, but she has fictionalised dialogue etc. As a novel alone, this is a wonderful story, but know that it’s based on someone’s life makes it more incredible.
I live a very boring life. I didn’t start life in a mud dugout in west Texas. I didn’t learn to ride before I was 5 years old. I didn’t become a teacher and leave home to trek across states to a teaching job at the age of 15. I haven’t been a bootlegger, a ranch wife, a bush pilot, a horse breaker or a poker player. I haven’t driven across America with my dead father in the back, stopping to beg for petrol from truckers.
Lily Casey did all this – and have two children. I had two children and landed up in a clinic.
The book takes us as far as her daughter, Rose Mary, marrying Rex the Scoundrel. And those two are Jeannette Walls’ parents. It was very satisfying to finish a book and know how the characters carry on living. Often I’m left hanging, wondering what happens to characters I’ve grown to like while reading a book. And now I know the background of the very weird mother, Rose Mary, in the Glass Castle. Although I don’t think anything excuses her behaviour. Ever.
I think you can read the two books either way round; it doesn’t really make a difference to either story. Both are fascinating, absorbing reads.