Some time ago I featured Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle” in this column. “The Glass Castle” is the most moving memoir I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t the only one affected by it.
Shortly after the column published, I received numerous emails from readers who were also touched by the book.
Memorable characters abound in “The Glass Castle,” but the most intriguing person to me was the author’s mother, Rosemary.
At times Rosemary was loving to her children, but other times she neglected them. Rosemary considered herself an artist and her paintings often seemed more important to her than her children. And though the family regularly faced poverty and even homelessness, Rosemary refused to utilize a small fortune she had available.
After reading “The Glass Castle,” I researched Rosemary and found an interesting YouTube video showing Rosemary and some of her paintings. While the video brought me closer to understanding Rosemary’s personality, I was still curious about her history. I wondered what sort of childhood produced this person.
I no longer wonder. Walls has written a second book, “Half Broke Horses,” that describes her maternal grandmother’s life and Rosemary’s childhood. While Walls says the only honest thing to call the book is a novel, much research went into it. The book is written in first person — Walls says her grandmother’s voice is one she clearly recalls — and reads like another beautifully crafted memoir.
Walls’ maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, is depicted as a no-nonsense, determined woman who stayed true to her character, however flawed that character might be. She grew up on a ranch and was helping to break horses at age 6. The grit she developed on the ranch helped her achieve her dreams, but it also made her a difficult woman to call mom.
Rosemary was not coddled. When she cried about Hiroshima bombing photos, Lily told her to focus on the positive. “You live in a country where no one has to make donuts by hand,” Lily said.
And when Lily suspected her husband of extramarital affairs, she enlisted young Rosemary as her detective.
These little tidbits, as well as similar stories detailed in “Half Broke Horses” don’t excuse Rosemary for her own behavior as an adult, but they do help explain it. If you read “The Glass Castle” and have remained curious about Rosemary, I suggest you spend some time with “Half Broke Horses.”