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Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Jeannette Walls’ latest novel, The Silver Star, opens with Jean, AKA Bean, recounting the story of how her sister, Liz, saved her life when she was only an infant. Bean (aka Jean) and Liz are sisters, one twelve and the other fifteen, who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. When things got bad in one place, their mother would slide out of town in the dead of night taking her little girls with her.

Bean and Liz, one twelve and the other fifteen, are sisters who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. In one of their quick exits out of town, a problem arose because mom in her dash toward freedom, had stashed things in the trunk leaving her infant child in a carrier on the roof. Dash, rush, run - oops - she forgot the minor issue of said infant left in a carrier on top of the car. Three year old Liz begins screaming her baby sister’s name and pointing at the roof. It took a some time to communicate to the manic mother the state of affairs. She slammed on the brakes, the carrier slid onto the hood, baby’s strapped in, so no harm’s done. 

Their mother loved to tell the story. She thought it was hilarious. Neither child saw the humor. Mom’s version tilted itself in her favor, as always.
Mom was going through a rough period at the time of the near fatal incident. She had a lot on her mind -- craziness, craziness craziness, the girls would say when hearing the story time after time.

Like Half Broke Horses by the same author, The Silver Star is considered fiction, but draws heavily on Walls' own family. The first work of Walls I read was The Glass Castle. It’s the biographical account of her wildly eccentric family, one that defines disfunction. Her father dreamed of building glass castles for his family to live in while he traipsed from one town to the next with them in tow, often leaving under the cloak of night to avoid paying bills--they had no money, so escape was the quick solution while he wove tales of magical new opportunities that would surely appear soon.


Review: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Lily was a spirited woman, a passionate teacher and talker who explained in great detail what had happened to her, why it had happened to her, what she'd done about it, and what she's learned from it, all with the idea of imparting life lessons to my mother.

Jeannette Walls placed this statement about her grandmother in the Author's Note at the end of her fabulous novel, Half Broke Horses. On the cover above the title in all capitals are the words A TRUE LIFE NOVEL.

Walls' "true life novel" presents the events in the life of Lily Casey Smith, a colorful and fascinating person spicing the pages of this book. This retelling of stories from her family's oral history were handed down through the years, and Walls admits that she does take a few storyteller's liberties.

Growing up in west Texas where horses and buckboards were the only mode of transportation, Lily learned to live tough, face obstacles and come out swinging regardless of what she faced. Her father spouted philosophy like a flash flood of insight that went straight into the fiber that made Lily Casey one of the strongest, most durable individuals in Texas. 

“Most important thing in life.” he would say, "is learning how to fall.”
“If I owned hell and west Texas,” he said, “I do believe I'd sell west Texas and live in hell.”
“When God closes a window, he opens a door. But it's up to you to find it.”

Lily's mother, though, stood in stark contrast to her father. Pious to a fault, she was a woman certain that everything that happened came straight from the hand of God. 

If you want to be reminded of the love of the Lord, Mom always said, just watch the sunrise. And if you wanted to be reminded of the wrath of the Lord, Dad said, watch a tornado.

Half Broke Horses takes the reader on a sweeping, panoramic ride.

“Yo, padre!” he’d say. He’d challenge the priest about the unscientific impossibility of the miracles and when the priest continued to ignore him, he’d get mad and yell out something about Pope Alexander VI’s bastard children, or Pope Leo X’s hedonism, or Pop Nicholas III’s simony  or the murders committed in the name of the Church during the Spanish Inquisition. But what could you expect, he’d say, from an institution run by celibate men who wore dresses. 

Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsThese words flowing from the always opinionated mouth of Jeannette Walls’ father made her worship time memorable and short. 

She begins her memoir, The Glass Castle, speaking not of her early childhood memories, but rather of herself as an adult sitting in a taxi worrying about whether she had overdressed for the evening’s events when she spots her mother digging through a dumpster. They’re only fifteen feet apart but in truth, a world of differences separate them. She watches as her mother hoists items from the dumpster, examines them and then laughs with glee at what pleases her. Her mother’s hair hangs tangled, dirty and matted while her eyes sink deep into her face making her sockets look like caves.

Feeling panic rising in her chest, Jeannette slides down into her seat and asks the driver to take her back to her home on Park Avenue. She’s come a long way from poverty, hunger, icicles hanging from the ceiling as she struggles to stay warm. She fears that someone going to the same lavish party as she will spot her if she speaks to her mother. Then her secret would be out for all to see the darkness from where she came.

This memoir struck a chord deep within me.