“When crafting a book with characters and events, such as a narrative, one treads closely to the realm of fiction by employing similar techniques used in fiction writing. While fabricating certain aspects, some details may stem from personal memory rather than the specific scene. Ultimately, it hinges on the readers’ perception. If they find your account credible, you are in good standing. A memoirist essentially resembles any other trickster; their success lies in being persuasive.”
If the author is not convincing, it does not matter if the events actually happened, according to Samuel Hynes, the author of The Growing Season: An American Boyhood Before the War. The genre of memoirs has always been controversial. Hynes also stated that whether the events truly occurred or not does not really matter; what matters is if the readers believe it. Only the author knows the truth behind the story. This supports the argument that Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, may not be entirely factual. Walls herself acknowledges that anyone who writes a memoir is inviting accusations of lying.
The article addresses the notion of a memoir, which is a narrative centered on personal experience. However, it expresses concerns about the accuracy of novels like The Glass Castle in portraying personal experiences, particularly from the protagonist’s early childhood. The author also cites James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces as an illustration, in which he confessed to fabricating certain aspects of his story. These instances are not isolated incidents, as there have been other cases of false memoirs in the past. In the article, Walls provides multiple examples of such occurrences, including allegations made by individuals from Limerick, Ireland regarding Frank McCourt’s invention of parts of his memoir Angela’s Ashes.
Sean Wilsey’s stepmother and members of Augusten Burroughs’ adoptive family have both accused the authors of their respective memoirs, Oh, the Glory of It All and Running with Scissors, of including false information. Wilsey’s stepmother claims that the book contains over 30 defamatory statements, while Burroughs’ relatives argue that he fabricated events and conversations. These incidents highlight the untrustworthiness of memoirs, despite their frequent use as interchangeable terms with autobiographies.
Autobiographies and memoirs both document the author’s life, but memoirs typically provide more specific details such as precise events, locations, and dialogue. The reliability of these memories can be uncertain despite their crucial reliance on personal recollection. Although certain individuals may assert having exceptional memory abilities, it is improbable for them to remember every aspect of previous occurrences. For instance, one might recollect breaking a leg during childhood but not recall the conversation or exact words spoken by the doctor. In her book, Walls commences with her earliest remembrance of cooking hotdogs and suffering severe burns.
Despite being only three years old, she vividly remembers her conversations with the doctors. According to Walls (10), she exclaimed, “Look, I’m half-mummy.” Moreover, Walls (11) states that her mother considers her mature for her age and often allows her to cook for herself. Although these recollections date back to when she was just a toddler, it seems highly unlikely that such precise conversations actually occurred. If she cannot recall them after so many years, it is plausible that they were fabricated to enhance the story. This situation raises doubts about what other aspects of this “memoir” Jeannette Walls may have invented.
The Walls children had a tumultuous life because of their unconventional and always on the move parents. Jeannette, especially, found it difficult to remember all the different places she had lived throughout the years. Their adventures usually involved sudden departures in the middle of the night, driven by their parents’ talks about potential chasers. Occasionally, their father would mention dangers from Standard Oil executives and unknown FBI agents, without revealing why they were being targeted to his children. (Walls, 19)
Walls discusses her father Rex’s alcoholism, abuse, and episodes of poverty. Two instances of him stealing money from the children are also mentioned. There were frequent occurrences of no food in the house, leading Jeannette and her sister Lori to resort to eating a mixture of margarine and sugar. In an attempt to overcome his drinking addiction, Rex tied himself to his bed and even tried pushing his wife out of a window. Despite their difficult circumstances, Rex and Rosemary viewed their experiences as adventures and chose not to apply for welfare.
Jeannette chose to disregard child services despite being aware of the lack of security and stability in her parents’ upbringing. The family showed no inclination to change their lifestyle, which seems impractical. Some incidents are incredibly shocking, distressing, and difficult to comprehend. In that same article, Jeannette shares a beloved childhood memory: “One of my fondest recollections is from when I was five years old during Christmas. Despite our parents not being able to afford presents, my father took each of us kids out into the night desert and let us pick any star we wanted.”
My brother, who possesses a remarkable memory for most things despite being a year younger, does not remember the incident mentioned. It is intriguing to ponder why Walls, who claims to have vivid memories, is unable to jog her brother’s “reliable” memory. In the prologue of the novel, Walls recounts witnessing her mother scavenging through a dumpster. When questioned about why she didn’t acknowledge her mother, Walls responds, “I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid” (Walls, 5). Despite appearing to be embarrassed of her mother, she distanced herself from her for numerous years. The fact that Walls concealed her history for so long and suddenly published this impactful novel raises suspicions.
Additionally, Walls now functions as a gossip columnist, capable of crafting gossip columns that may not always reflect the truth. Hence, it is plausible that she may have distorted certain elements of The Glass Castle. One particular event from the book that seems fabricated is the occurrence of Maureen’s breakdown. “Maureen stabbed Mom…Maureen entered the courtroom, restrained and dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Her face appeared swollen, and she seemed disoriented. However, upon spotting us, she formed a smile and waved.” It seems peculiar that Maureen would snap considering she was the youngest child and thus spent relatively less time under Rex and Rosemary’s purported “care.” Jeannette mentioned that Maureen primarily resided with neighbors.
Jeannette, Brian, and Lori emerged from their difficult experiences relatively unharmed. The fact that they came out okay despite the challenges they faced adds an interesting aspect to the credibility of the memoir. Author Ann Patchett reflects on this by quoting a woman who commented, “It’s impressive how clearly you remember everything…all those conversations and details. Were you ever worried about misrepresenting something?” Lucy responds with confidence, saying, “I didn’t remember it. I wrote it down. I am a writer.” (Truth and Beauty).
Remembering events from distant years is a difficult undertaking, and there is always skepticism about the author’s recollection. The truth of the story can only be known by the author, making it challenging for others to verify. This doubt serves as the foundation for the claim that Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, might not be completely precise.
- Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2005.
- Walls, Jeannette. “Truth and Consequences. ” Publishers Weekly 252. 37 (19 Sept. 2005): 74. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed.
- Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 299. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.