Jeannette Walls gives us readers a direct view into both the early and later stages of her life. She speaks in detail about many aspects of her life such as; her dysfunctional family, poor living conditions and also the lack of stability in her childhood. There is also a saying that comes to mind, “Running away from your problems is a race that you will never win”. This is a saying which ultimately applied to Jeannette, as she points out in the later stages of her memoir.
The memoir begins as Jeannette reflects upon memories of her childhood. She recalls a moment when she was at the tender age of three, where she was making a snack for and her dress caught fire. Jeannette was badly burnt in the fray and has to spend multiple days at the hospital. Her father Rex, after she spent a couple days there, takes her out of the hospital without paying.
Jeannette continues to recollect moments from her childhood, where she remembers the time her family spent living in mining towns. The mining towns were located in the desert and they moved from town to town quite often. This was due to it being difficult for Jeannette’s father, to keep a steady job. This caused the family to be constantly on the move, whenever Rex next needed a job. Jeannette had a fairly big family as well. There was herself, her older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, her eventual younger sister Maureen and of course her parents Rex and Rose Mary. Rex was a charming and knowledgeable man, who thought his children many things while he was sober. But he was also an alcoholic, who was highly paranoid about structured society. These issues, of course, played a large factor in the family frequent moving. Her mother Rose Mary, was not the stereotypical housewife. She did not enjoy the responsibilities of looking after or worrying about her family. She also did not see cooking or cleaning as a priority within the household. While she did not work, she instead spent her time painting and writing, which she saw as more lasting and substantial endeavors.
Due to an incident in Phoenix, Rex’s drinking got worse. The family also ran out of money, which caused them to move to Welch, West Virginia, on their mother’s request. This was the town Rex grew up in but he was also reluctant to return too. This becomes clear when Rex’s mother sexually abuses Brian. She also suggests that she did the same to Rex when he was younger. The town itself was difficult to live in as it was segregated and in poor condition. However, despite these factors, Jeannette’s family choose to stay and take residence in a run-down shack, on top of a hill.
Rex drinking once again, gets even worse and his family is left without much food. The living conditions are poor. The shack lacks both a proper indoor plumbing and a heating system. As Jeannette gets older, she and Lori concoct a plan for them to escape from their less than responsible parents. The plan entailed that Lori will graduate from her school and find a way to move to New York. Then Jeannette will follow in her stead. Though they were faced with various challenges, the two accomplish their dream.
Now having successfully moved to New York City, Jeannette and Lori both manage to find work for themselves. From their new income, they provide themselves with food and decent living conditions better than those they had before. Having established themselves, they ask both Brian and Maureen to move in with them. The two younger siblings agree and the children finally have a complete happy home. Rex and Rose Mary begin to miss their children and also move to New York City. They, however, are still unwilling to make the effort to keep a steady job and eventually end up living in an abandoned building.
Later on the memoir, Rex passes away due to a heart attack at the age of sixty. After her father’s passing Jeannette finally realizes how she has separated herself from both her past and her parents. The loss of her father drives her to reexamine her life, and to look within for a new purpose and direction.
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