Wow! How would you like to have a grandmother who had been a bootlegger, poker player, mustang breaker and racehorse rider, in addition to filling the more conventional roles of mother of two, schoolteacher, and ranch wife? This book tells the story of the interesting life of the author's grandmother who lived from 1901 to 1968 and spent most of her life in rural areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Anyone who has read the author's previous book, The Glass Castle, will recognize the same spunky spirit coming through as she tells the story of her Grandmother's life.
Jeannette Walls was eight years old when her grandmother died, so she does have some childhood memories of her grandmother's vibrant personality. But of course she depended on stories about her grandmother told to her by her mother and other family members to put this book together. She then used her writing talent to bring these memories and stories together into a very real and believable first person narrative in the voice of her grandmother.
The experience of reading this book is much the same as reading an intimate memoir. Therefore I have categorized it for myself as as a memoir. But the author has classified it as a novel since it is based largely on second hand stories and contains speculative internal thoughts of her grandmother.
I was impressed with the writing in both this book and The Glass Castle. However, I found this book generally more hopeful and optimistic than the story of the author’s life in The Glass Castle which describes a downward trend of conditions before a happy ending. Those who have read The Glass Castle will find it interesting to observed the childhood development of Jeannette Walls’ mother who we know will later be guilty of infamous behavior as an adult.
This book raises some questions in my mind about the variety personalities than can appear within a single family tree. I would like to know what an expert in human behavior can suggest as a reason why some family members described in this book and The Glass Castle are blessed with focused initiative and drive while others seem to lack any ambition at all. As a matter of fact, in the case of Jeannette Walls’ family, there seems to be a pattern of these two contrasting characteristics alternating between every other generation. Is there something about strong willed parents that causes their children to be weak willed? How does one explain brothers and sisters of the same generation who have completely different personalities? Is it genes, birth order or environment?