Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Jeannette Walls and The Silver Star and Negligent Mothers

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The first time I read anything by Jeannette Walls, I had not read her autobiographical best-seller, The Glass Castle. If I had, when I read the opening pages of one of my all-time-favorite books, Half Broke Horses , three young children out checking on the cows in America of the mid-1800’s, I would have said “Oh, yes, this is Jeannette Walls” instead of being so shocked that these three children were so far from home with a storm approaching. Not only does the storm approach – the oldest sister pushes her younger sister and brother up a tree and they are stuck there through a violent storm all night. No adult comes looking for them.

“Where is their mother?” in shock I thought, “a mother with three children out in the storm goes looking for them!”

Not if you are a Jeannette Walls mother. To ‘get’ Jeannette Walls, you really have to start with The Glass Castle, and learn about how she and her siblings are at the mercy of an alcoholic mother and father, both big liars, maybe with some attendant mental problems. Half Broke Horses is fiction, based on her own grandmother, who, at 15 rides 28 days across Indian territory to teach at a far-away school (What mother lets her 15 year old DAUGHTER ride for a month across dangerous country ALONE??)

I was on the send-as-soon-as-it’s-published list for Silver Star. And even once it arrived, I waited until I knew I might have a few free hours in the evening to read it – once you start Jeannette Walls, you can’t put it down. Her heroines in this novel are 15 year old Liz and 12 year old Bean (Jean) whose mother ran away from her hometown in Virginia to pursue a career in music. The mother has a small inheritance to sustain them; when life sours, as it often does for her, she packs the girls into her worn Dodge Dart and takes off. She isn’t always good about paying her bills. She talks to her girls about what a great team they are, and then takes off for a day or two, usually with some man, leaving them to eat chicken pot pies. Then, she abandons them with no sign of when she will be back.

The girls are pistols. They are survivors, much like Jeannette Walls grandmother in Half Broke Horses. When social services start coming around asking where their mother is, they take off headed for their Mom’s old home town, across the continent, in Virginia.

The heart of the story finds the girls living in the old family mansion, scouting for odd jobs, learning more about themselves and their heritage, and learning how a small community can smother, judge and support their community members in unexpected ways.

If you are a negligent, man-oriented, self-absorbed mother, you don’t want to have a writer for a daughter. Jeannette Walls is having a ball; her books are both sad and hilarious, and she has utter scorn for mothers who do not take the reins of motherhood and behave like grown-ups.

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Books, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Humor, Living Conditions, Parenting, Relationships, Women's Issues | Leave a comment