Tuesday, November 13, 2007

About books about dysfunctional people

I finished a book last night called The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls. (Read an interview with her here»)

The best part about this book was, I ended it feeling as if I were the best parent ever. Because, for all the eccentrically wonderful nuttiness of Walls' parents--her father giving her a star for Christmas, her mother waiting to name the newest baby until exactly the right name became evident--the gross neglect and passive physical abuse of these children made me want to cry through most of it. I just don't think allowing a three year old to make his or her own dinner on the stove, resulting in terrible burns, is anything except child abuse.

They lived most of the time in poverty and squalor, and if they learned self-sufficiency and inspired make-do cover-ups (like inventing her own braces), they also learned as they grew up that their parents did not learn from their mistakes, even as they encouraged their children to make and learn from their own.

And interestingly, three of the four children emerged relatively unscathed from their childhoods--her sister, a artist, her brother, a police officer, herself, a writer and journalist. Their youngest sister, the delayed-named Maureen, seems to be the one most closely resembling their flawed parents.

I always disagree with Dostoevsky--unhappy families nearly always share the same reasons for being unhappy: alcohol, drugs, mental illness. And I'm not sure there are many "happy" families; there are only fully or partially functioning ones, ones that manage illness and upset, loss of jobs and loss of life, and are still talking to each other, having Thanksgiving dinner together, laughing with or at whatever it is that's in their way.

Well, what about you? How dysfunctional are you feelin'?

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