Back in 2005, Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir The Glass Castle wowed critics and readers with its unbelievable rags-to-riches story. It's no surprise Hollywood wanted to adapt it, as writing about her difficult, nomadic childhood, Walls simultaneously conveyed her younger self's point of view that it was all a grand adventure with her adult ability to see it for the insane bedlam it was. The film adaptation, starring Brie Larson as Walls, hits the big screen on Aug. 11, and the fact that The Glass Castle is a true story still feels baffling.
Many films, of course, take certain creative liberties with the truth; no one watching Argo would know Canadians were responsible for the audacious escape plan, or that American Sniper's Biggles died long after the film implied. And supposedly non-fiction books, too, can take liberties, as shown when the popular "memoir" A Million Little Pieces was revealed to be more fiction than fact. But as it turns out, Walls' story in The Glass Castle, both the book and movie, really is true to life.
It's difficult to believe, but everything, from acting as sexual bait to helping her dad hustle pool to jumping out of a cab after spotting her mom rummaging in a dumpster on the street, is completely true. The Glass Castle covers Walls' life through 2005 when the book was published. It opens with her earliest memory: catching fire cooking hot dogs for herself at age three. She still has the burns.
No one is more aware of the story's amazing nature than Walls herself. In an article penned for Publisher's Weekly around the book's release, the author said she knew what she was in for when writing her life story, as even generally straightforward memoirs are challenged for veracity. And the Rashomon Effect, where the same event is interpreted differently by people experiencing it, is very real. But Walls' siblings have corroborated her story, arguing not about whether they went hungry and cold during bitter winters like she wrote, but over differing opinions about ways they could've changed their family's lives.
Despite her difficult childhood, Walls grew up to become a successful gossip columnist and author. Yet not everything turned out rosy;The Glass Castle leaves off with the family reunited at Thanksgiving several years after Walls' father's fatal heart attack. And ABC News reports that in a 2005 Q&A promoting the book, Walls mentioned that while two of her siblings are also living their dreams (her sister is an illustrator, and her brother is a police officer), her youngest sibling "hit a rough patch".
And then, there's Walls' mother, Rose Mary. Walls now lives in Virginia, and her mother, formerly squatting in derelict NYC buildings, lives in a cottage out back. Rose Mary has not denied her daughter's statements about her childhood, including Walls saying that her mother hid chocolate bars to eat herself while her children went hungry. But in several interviews, Rose Mary has taken issue with some perceived slights. In an interview withVanity Fair, Walls pointed out her mother could have gotten a job to help feed them. Not denying their hunger, Rose said, "I did get a job," to which Walls responded, "For a year." To this, Rose said, "Well, nobody's perfect.’
The movie version of The Glass Castle aims to tell Walls' story in all its complexity, without ignoring any characters' flaws or reduce them to cliches. In an article Walls penned for the L.A. Times, she talked about the process of re-telling her history, trusting that director Destin Daniel Cretton's passion for the truth, however outlandish, was as strong as her own. And considering that she told Vanity Fair that she was ecstatic after seeing the final film, it seems her trust was well-placed.