Don’t be someone else’s little cheerleader.
Be the star of your own show.
Even if there’s no audience.
– Jeanette Walls, The Silver Star
I’m writing this review only because I think this quote needs to be shared. The New York Times and the Washington Post both did excellent reviews of The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. She is best known for her perennially best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.
The Silver Star appears to be a fictionalized version of The Glass Castle. The title springs from a war medal won by Bean’s father. He was a hot-headed, chivalrous guy from the wrong side of the tracks in a small Virginia town where her mother Charlotte Holladay’s family owned a cotton plantation and textile mill. I didn’t realize that cotton was a crop first planted in Virginia.
The plantation went belly-up shortly after the Civil War ended slavery. Bean’s ancestors opened a textile mill which remained profitable until her mother’s generation. The family sold it to a firm in Chicago which substantially reduced the quality of goods produced as well as the number of people employed by the mill. The new owner’s abusive and corrupt hatchet man, Jerry Maddox, is a central character.
Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power,
has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and
about people who find a way to love each other and the world,
despite its flaws and injustices.
– Promotion of The Silver Star
In many respects, the book is a fictionalized version of Who Moved My Cheese?, a trite, judgmental parable about people who fail to thrive after technology makes their careers obsolete or companies ship their jobs overseas. Ms. Walls’ parents floundered badly, but she managed to get educated at Barnard and have a highly successful career as a writer. She tempers harsh reality with deep love and compassion.
Charlotte Holladay was a spoiled, rebellious little rich girl who had no clue how to financially sustain herself or her children, Liz and Bean. During college, she married a guy whose family fortunes had faded. After he discovered the Holladay family wouldn’t fund his extravagant lifestyle, he became abusive and abandoned Charlotte when she was pregnant with Liz. Charlotte ran back to her ancestral home and got pregnant again by Bean’s daddy.
After his murder, Charlotte decamped to California and dreamed of stardom. Unfortunately, she lacked real talent.
Meanwhile, her brother Tinsley has sold the mill, gotten fired, and become a widower. His need to sustain family traditions is as powerful as his sister’s need to escape. Because he could no longer afford to maintain his lifestyle or the family plantation, he became a reclusive eccentric. The siblings are effectively two sides of the same pretentious coin which has lost its currency. They have no clue how to support themselves, and they have nearly exhausted their inheritances.
The net result is that Liz and Bean must fend for themselves. The Silver Star is a sobering, realistic account of what happens when cheese gets moved and adults don’t know how to cope with their new reality. If you have experienced systemic injustice, you will probably love the ending. One of my law school buddies who became a prosecutor told me that he believed street justice was far more effective than any court. In retrospect, I wish I had been less idealistic and more realistic.
Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle (Book Review + More)