MOTIVATION for READING: My friend Ree loaned this because she heard me say I enjoyed The Glass Castle, Walls debut memoir.
WHAT’s it ABOUT: If you’ve read TGC and liked Walls’ writing, you will not be disappointed. Yet, this book is different because it is told in the point-of-view of her grandmother. Or rather, Walls’ more detailed imaginings of the stories she heard from her grandmother and her mother. Thus the subtitle of “A True-Life Novel”; what the author could verify, she did but the book reads like a novel with dialogue and inner thoughts that she could only call fiction.
If you haven’t read The Glass Castle yet, I recommend you do – a startling look at survival in a crazy family. I am having a hard time answering my own question of whether not you would need to have read that before this and think the answer is ‘no’. However, I don’t think I would have read this if I hadn’t already been introduced to Walls. I don’t know; I might have assumed incorrectly it was a horse story and that just isn’t my interest.
It’s not really about horses.
WHAT’s GOOD: It’s about Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’ maternal grandmother. Lily was one tough cookie. She was a scrapper, a do-er, a don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-do-it kind of person. She was independent, a spitfire, a woman with a temper, afraid of nothin’. Definitely no-nonsense and practical, not a sentimental bone in her body. We start with an early childhood memory in Texas and how she developed her life philosophy of work hard and get-it-done. She endures tragedy and heartache, becomes a school teacher and gets fired a few times. She finds a good man to marry, helps him run an Arizona ranch through the depression years and raises two kids. Perhaps by Lily’s example, her daughter Rosemary learns how NOT to be a mother?
WHAT’s NOT so GOOD: A silly thing that bugged me was that I got a bit lost with what year it was when; about a third of the way through the book we are once again given a year reference. It could very well be that I just missed these dates and then couldn’t find again but it was a minor distraction. Not that big of a deal; we still learn about her life during major events going on in the US (the Depression, WWII, etc).
FINAL THOUGHTS: I don’t usually pay attention to chapter length but I really enjoyed the short chapters and quick readability of this book. It made it very easy to pick up and read a few pages at a time. I only recall a bit of Glass Castles but I did have the impression the grandmother was wealthy – perhaps that was only young Jeannette’s impression. So I was expecting a very different grandmother than the one we meet here! Also, I was so curious how Rosemary (Jeannette’s mom) got her crazy child-rearing ideas (or lack thereof?) It’s very apparent that Walls has a fondness for her mother’s mother yet, again, she does not apologize for showing the warts. Lily was not perfect and she didn’t give a damn. I liked her from this far-away perspective but I would have been terribly intimidated by her.
Walls is a terrific story teller. Lily was an amazing interesting woman who lived life hard.
RATING: Four Pie Slices of Prickly Pear Pie*
* Yes, I found a recipe for Prickly Pear Pie but have yet to try it. Ya gotta love the suggestion to “Wear gloves and use tongs.” I’m sure Lily Casey Smith would have approved.