Jeannette Walls wrote The Glass Castle (an adaptation for The Glass Castle hits theaters August 11,) to conquer shame about her hardscrabble past, but the metaphor of the Glass Castle is almost universally relatable. It represents the impossible dreams for the future that most of weave for ourselves, the glittering dreams instilled in childhood, a fantastic goal to reach for that we can never quite touch.
For one of her birthdays her father Rex Wells couldn’t afford to give his daughter a present, so he pointed the 10-year-old Jeannette toward the night sky and asked her to pick out any star she wanted from the sky (except Betelgeuse and Rigel, stars her siblings had already claimed.) Instead of a star, Jeannette picked out Venus. The true gift here was the moment itself and instead of carrying around a trinket, she would always have her momento as long as Venus is visible in the night sky. You don’t really need to own Venus or build The Glass Castle. The dream of these things is the thing itself.
In so many ways Jeannatte Walls built The Glass Castle herself, or at least versions of it. She got into college on scholarships and grants, built a career for herself, and married wealth. In writing The Glass Castle, she attained wealth in her own right, remarried, and built a beautiful sprawling estate in rural Virginia. Her mother Rose Mary, who used to be homeless on the streets of New York City, now resides in a messy guest house on the property. Father Rex Wells passed away in 1994 (his death is described in the memoir,) long before The Glass Castle was written.
“He’d be so proud,” she told New York Times Magazine about how her father Rex Walls would feel about the beautiful home she now lives in. “That’s why I can’t be bitter or angry, because I got the damn castle, didn’t I? And he and my mother gave me the tools to do it. I’ve got four flush toilets in this house, O.K.? Push the little lever, life is good. I got heat, push the little buttons, life is really good. I will never take anything for granted. It is a miracle to me that I can go to a grocery store and don’t have to stop counting at $3. I can also live without too much fear because I know I could survive without these things. I was at this event once, and somebody said, ‘I can’t believe that you survived — it’s superhuman.’ And a woman in the front row shyly raised her hand and said, ‘I’m from Liberia, and she didn’t have it so bad.’ There was a gasp in the audience, as though I was going to get upset that this chickie-poo dared to have a worse childhood than me. To the contrary. The thermostat and hot running water are luxuries. I would never want to go back, but I know I can.”
The Glass Castle starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson, hits theaters August 11, 2017.
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