This is either the perfect book or the worst book to read when you’re dealing with an impossible mother-daughter situation. You’ve been warned.
Are you familiar with Jeannette Walls? Her first book, The Glass Castle related the story of her own childhood and was on the NYT’s bestseller list for 6 years. It was a powerful story, but her tale complete with two dysfunctional parents and an extended family, was certainly not one to which I really related. I did admire, however, Jeannette’s survival instinct and her ability to propel herself forward through sheer determination and the desire for stability. I understood that.
Her second work, Half Broke Horses, delved even deeper into her treasure chest of family history, merging reminiscences and imagination into a tale which brought her maternal grandmother’s colorful life to readers. This book was clearly an artful blending of fiction and nonfiction, and Wall’s grandmother, Lily, an almost mythical character. Her resourcefulness and tough as nails attitude make her an unforgettable narrator and woman.
This new book, though? Well, it kicked my emotional ass. Here’s how the blurb from the library catalog begins: “Two motherless sisters, Bean and Liz…” Mentally replacing “sisters” with “brother and sister,” I immediately checked the book out. Last weekend I tore through the novel’s 269 pages, stopping to catch my breath after this passage -
“Mom’s account of my dad had always left me hankering for more details, but she said she didn’t want to talk about him and we were both better off if we put him behind us. Mom didn’t have a picture of him, and she wouldn’t tell me his name, I’d always wondered what my dad had looked like. I didn’t look like my mom. Did I look like my dad? Was he handsome? Funny? Smart?”
Oh my God. How did Walls know exactly what that conversation sounded like? Even more painfully, how did she know precisely what having that conversation felt like? Jesus.
The passage though, that nearly broke (or maybe Half Broke me) was this -
“I think Mom believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe she just needed someone to blame for the way everything turned out.”
Never before have I read anything which so clearly expressed my own experience with my mother. Never, I said. That was my own mother perfectly summed up in two sentences. Mercy.
I guess maybe I don’t have to write that book now after all.
Screw the silver star. Walls gets a gold one for this book.