I was challenged by Stephanie, my cohort in the Book Club for Complicated House Plants, to read her favorite book and then we’d watch the movie together. Then my daughter Xe (pronounced: zay) came to stay with me for a few months. Upon learning I was reading The Glass Castle, she got really really excited because it is also one of her favorite books. She was unaware there was a movie, so we invited her along to be part of this adventure with us.
The Glass Castle is a memoir by Jeannette Walls that details her life growing up with her siblings, Brian, Lori, & Maureen and her parents Rose Mary and Rex Walls. It tells the story of their life growing up in the deserts of California, Arizona, and Texas before moving East to West Virginia. With parents who are always a little out of touch with reality, the kids grow up a little out of the normal parameters that we think of today. Struggling to make ends meet and almost consistently wondering where their next meal will come from, it takes a toll on the children.
Book Club for Complicated House Plants
Rex and Rose Mary Walls were unconventional parents, but were they abusive? Why or why not?
S: Does it have to be a yes or no question? Can it be both? Were they abusive? I would say no. They never struck their children, but did they put them in situations that required them to find different solutions? Yes. They taught them to fend for themselves; survival of the fittest. But are they also traumatized from their childhood? Yes, there’s some PTSD going on. But all in all it made them stronger adults.
A: Yes. Mostly because they were neglectful at the very least. They wanted what was best for their kids, but refused to do anything that would actually better them. Always on the road toward the next adventure, regardless of whether or not the kids had exactly what they needed. Though the kids were smart, they lacked the basic necessities on regular occasions.
X: Oh, yes. There’s not even a question about that cause how do you let your child burn making hot dogs when they’re three? Your three year old shouldn’t be anywhere near the stove. And when they’re visiting Rex’s mom, the scene with the brother [Brian] there was certainly some abuse there. He let his kids stay with her?
Why does Jeannette see more ambiguity in her upbringing than her siblings do?
S: I think because she had the closest relationship with their Dad. Seeing all the things he did and loving him through his addiction, and wanting to do better in her adult life. But even as an adult she still didn’t know how to do that.
A: I think it’s because she tried to see the best in her parents, instead of focusing solely on what they lacked. It gave her a bit more perspective when it came to her parents, but I agree, she struggled with that into adulthood.
X: She was very close with her dad, she saw more of the good side of him than her siblings did. Her relationship with her mom wasn’t as close as the one with her dad, but even then I think she was very understanding when her parents did do stuff wrong.
Many children grow up in poverty and have parents that abuse substances. Why were the Walls children able to rise out of their circumstances?
S: Because living through situations like that as a child teaches you how not to be. It makes you want to better your life so you don’t have to live the same way or you don’t have to put your children through the things that you encountered.
A: I think they saw their parents as a beautiful example of what not to do. That’s how I did it when it came to my dad’s drinking.
X: I think they were able to rise out of their circumstances because they saw their dad drinking a lot and didn’t like it. So they knew what not to do when they got older. They always stuck together too.
How do you think you would have reacted to being raised like a Walls? How would it change your perspective or approach to life?
S: I don’t think it would change so much seeing as how I grew up similarly to them. I wasn’t as nomadic, but at the same time to be on the poverty level that they were on, it makes me a little more grateful for the things that I have today.
A: I think I’d value things like running water, food whenever I wanted it, and a comfortable bed a lot more. Especially indoor plumbing. I think the reaction of Lori and Jeannette when they first get the apartment in New York is perfectly described as a paradise to them where as we might see it as sub-par from our own perspectives.
X: I don’t even know. I can’t imagine if my life had been like that. I probably would have felt bad about myself, even if that was selfish. I would definitely appreciate things more because I feel like I take a lot of things for granted.
Why did the parents follow their children to New York? Why did the children keep seeing them?
S: Because they’re a family and families stick together no matter how messed up they may be. Rex and Rose Mary love their kids and wanted to know that they were okay as adults as well.
A: I think that they just wanted to be with their kids. I agree that they’re a family, and family sticks together. Once all the kids were in New York, it was only a matter of time before they burned out their connections in Welch and joined them in New York.
X: I feel like just as much as the kids needed them when they were younger, they needed them as well. They obviously love their kids, and even though they abused them when they were younger, a parent loves their kids. I think that they wanted to support their kids.
Discuss Rose Mary Walls. What did you think about her description of herself as an “excitement addict”?
S: I don’t think she’s so much an excitement addict as she was selfish with her own wants. And that did portray her as an adventurous person, but I feel like that adventure was forced by Rex not keeping a job and her not working and them being forced to Skedaddle all the time.
A: I don’t think that she was an excitement addict so much as she loved her husband. It was one of those things she told herself so that she could continue being positive.
X: I think it’s not as much excitement, as she liked the adrenaline. You could see it when her and Rex would get into these big arguments that right after they’d be in love again.
How did the new scenes of Jeannette as an adult square with your read of her from the book?
S: Her portrayal between the book and the movie was not equal in any way. I think she was more sheltered and reluctant and not as eager to claim her parents as hers. I think in the movie maybe the people she was around influenced her feelings about her parents than in the book.
A: I felt like they were slightly disjointed. Like they didn’t quite fit. Like the target version of something versus the Walmart version. You have to look closely to find the difference but it’s there. She was quieter in the book, kept her head down and worked her way out of her situation through the determination of sheer will.
X: In the book I feel like she’s not as outgoing as the movie makes it out. I feel like she’s a little more reserved. And I think in the book it shows when she first sees her mom digging in the dumpster that she’s embarrassed of her parents.
How did the scenes of Jeannette as an adult change your perspective of her or her relationship with her family? Did it work for you? Why or why not?
S: It did to a certain extent. I feel like in the book her and her siblings were a lot closer than they were in the movie. They at least communicated more than they appeared to in the movie.
A: The movie made her seem a little more stuck up than in the book. You could see she felt affection toward her family, but the book explains it so much better. It was different.
X: Like Steph said, they were definitely a lot closer in the book and you saw how their relationship from childhood to adult hood grew and it was probably even bigger because they share that trauma. I feel like the movie showed them as separated and they hardly saw each other. I wish they had showed the relationship with the kids more than the relationship with the dad because the relationship with her siblings was a lot bigger.
The movie centers on Jeannette’s relationship with her father in particular. Why did they have a special relationship?
S: I feel like because she was the only one out of the kids that he gave a Nickname too they were closer and being a middle child, she definitely understood his addictions. She believed in him, and the glass castle, longer than everyone else.
A: He was closer to her than to her siblings. I think he loved them all equally, but if he had a favorite, it was Jeannette and her relationship with her father shaped her entire life.
X: I think the question he asked a lot throughout both the book and movie was “do you still believe in your dad” and she always said yes when he asked. They had more intimate conversations than he did with the other siblings.
How did Naomi Watts’ version of Rose Mary compare with Rose Mary in the book? Was she abused by Rex? Was she as good a parent as Rex?
S: I think they were equally shitty parents. I feel like she was portrayed in the book as a slightly more caring parent than in the movie. Only because in the book her and the children had more meaningful conversations about Rex’s addiction. I don’t feel like he technically abused her, because she knew about the situation at hand and did nothing to better herself or her children even though she had several opportunities to do so.
A: I felt like they left too much out of the movie for the character to pop. She came off more like someone who didn’t care in the movie, where as in the book we see that she does care about her children a lot, she’s just not a great mother. She’s the kind of person who would make an interesting friend, but not a good mother. The movie also didn’t show too much about how she struggled with depression and wrestled with doing the right thing.
X: I feel like they romanticized her as a mother more in the movie. In the books you could see she was as equally neglectful as Rex. When you watch the movie you think she’s just stuck but really she kept herself there. Naomi Watts’ version was terrible. I feel like they should have shown more interactions between the parents because they put a lot more in the book that showed Rex’s more abusive side.
What was your favorite part?
S: My favorite part of the movie was Christmas when they had nothing to give the children, and Rex took them out and gave them each a star (or planet if you’ll have it) because that’s something that couldn’t be taken away from them. And he was actually a smart man, so he was informative in telling them about the star or planet they chose.
A: When he gifted the kids the stars. That was smart, they may not have had much, but he gave them something that no one could take, and that was something they remembered fondly about their dad. He encouraged their adventures and reading. That was the greatest part. Despite everything they tried to teach the kids and they were all very intelligent, which probably made everything so much worse somehow.
X: My favorite part, which they didn’t add in the movie, was the tinker bell doll, because when she was trying to see her pretty face in the fire she melted. And even though her doll melted, she still loved it.
Any last comments about the book or movie?
S: Hands down best book I’ve read, I’ve related to it more than any book I’ve ever read.
A: It was a good book, I enjoyed it a lot. I can see why it’s Steph and Xe’s favorite book.
X: Pretty much what Steph said, it’s the best book ever, it’s my favorite book. The movie was nice but it did not stand to my expectations.
Stephanie: Five stars for the book hands down. Five stars for Woody Harrelson playing Rex Walls in the movie. And 2.5 stars, 3 if you’re lucky, because it was considerably inconsistent with the book.
Amber: I gave the book four stars, because it was really really good. I would actually give it 4.5, but I didn’t make graphics for half stars. Sorry. It was a good read, I don’t read memoirs often, and this kept me intrigued. I can see why Steph liked it, and Xe also. I loved it and I would read it again. The movie get’s three stars. Maybe. Woody Harrelson get’s five stars.
Xe: The book is five stars, immaculate, a masterpiece, the holy grail. But for the movie, I’ll give it a three. It’s only at a three because of Woody Harrelson’s immaculate portrayal of Rex.
Well, that’s it for now. This is the first non-fiction book for the Book Club, so let us know what you think. What’s your favorite book? Alright my friends, I’m off. Be safe, drink your water, don’t eat yellow snow, and have an adventure.
Xe: Woody Harrelson should have played all the characters.
Steph: I concur. Except for Jeannette, who the child actor was Mountain Goat all the way.
Amber: *Shakes head fondly*