If you've seen Viggo Mortensen's Captain Fantastic, the 2016 family drama that starred him as a hippie father intent on keeping his children away from the vices of the modern world, you'll find that the story of The Glass Castle sounds quite familiar. But while the writer of Captain Fantastic, Matt Ross, included some autobiographical elements in the movie, there's even more of a true story behind The Glass Castle, set to release this summer.
Starring Brie Larson (who took up the role after Jennifer Lawrence dropped out of the project), Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, The Glass Castle is directly based on Jeannette Walls's memoir, in which she details her childhood and her unconventional upbringing with an alcoholic father and an artist mother. First released in 2005, the book has become an international best-seller, with more than 2.7 million copies sold worldwide. On top of its warm critical reception, it was also awarded the Christopher Award, the American Library Association's Alex Award and the Books for Better Living Award.
The True Story Of The Glass Castle
It might sound like a romantic hippie dream, but the vagabond lifestyle led by Wells and her family was anything but an adventurous road trip. Because her parents were so removed from the traditional structures of society, Jeannette and her siblings grew up in poverty, living in abandoned houses and constantly moving across the US with each of their father's new impulses.
The second youngest of a family of four, Jeannette recalls how she grew up with incredible stories, but strongly suffered through poverty and abuse because of the lifestyle condoned by her father, Rex, and her mother, Rose Mary. Rex struggled with alcoholism, and his inability to keep a job pushed them to change cities every time their debts became too much to handle. Still, he always insisted on pursuing his outlandish projects. In lieu of material objects, Jeannette would receive presents for her birthdays such as a star she'd get to pick in the sky, or an attempt by her father to stop drinking alcohol.
The name of the book comes from Rex's goal to build a glass castle for his family, for which he would constantly carry the plans around. But the dream house was never built, and they lived in substandard places instead, forcing the children to learn to fend for themselves and eventually initiate their own move to New York City, where Jeannette was able to go to college and find herself a job.
While she says she kept her story to herself for a long time because she was ashamed of being homeless, Walls has discussed in interviews how the publication of The Glass Castle has helped her embrace her past, and partly brought her family back together. As she told the New York Times:
"So many people ask, 'How could you forgive your mother for the way you were raised?' It's really not forgiveness in my opinion. It's acceptance. She's never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.'"
What makes her story so heartbreaking is exactly that subtle balance between her account of truly horrible life conditions and her honest love for her parents. Speaking to WV Living of her now-deceased father, she credit her father for becoming a writer:
"I think about my dad every day and miss him so much. There's no question that if he were alive he'd try to be helping me with my research and writing. But he planted the seed, and that's enough.
I would love for him to be living with me in Virginia. I like to entertain the fantasy that if he were here, I could help him stop drinking. But of course, I couldn't. I wonder what he would think of 'The Glass Castle' — if he'd be proud of me or think it was a violation of him. My brother, who is very smart about that sort of thing, says, 'Curse him or praise him, Dad didn't care as long as you said his name.' So I like to think that wherever he is now, he's just grinning ear to ear."
While we'll never know if the book really did Rex Walls justice, we can only hope the movie will honor the book.
The Glass Castle comes out August 11, 2017.