Jeanette Walls’ first book, The Glass Castle, was one of my favourite books of the past few years, and has kind of coloured how I look at many of the memoirs and novels I have read since. I think I specifically referenced it in my review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in fact. Walls had a very difficult upbringing with some colourful family members, and this book is a novelization (of sorts) of her grandmother’s story. The story is told in the voice of Lily Casey Smith, and contains as much truth about Smith’s life as Walls was able to collect.
Smith’s life story remind me of the experience of Laura Ingalls Wilder, truthfully, although of course created for a vastly different audience. It is a hard life of disasters, sacrifice, risk and adventure. She is a capable, hard working and intelligent woman who struggles to create a good life for herself and her family on farms, ranches and in a variety of early American cities. The book also describes some of the childhood and adolescence of of Walls’ mother Rosemary, who is so memorably described in The Glass Castle. The reader can certainly see how her character was formed at an early age, and the brief description of Walls’ parents courtship is also illuminating. I think the book might have been a bit short, as some of the events are discussed only briefly, although they would be interesting to learn about in more detail . I am not certain if that is because Walls didn’t have the information available or if that was an editorial choice.
Walls is a gifted storyteller, and moves easily into writing in the voice of another. Smith is an enormously interesting and courageous character, and the story moves along briskly. While I did not love this book as I did Wall’s earlier book, I would still highly recommend it.