Kathleen Parker

On the eighth day, when God was handing out whining privileges, he came upon Jeannette Walls and said, "For you, an unlimited lifetime supply."

Apparently, Walls declined His kind offer.

Best known as MSNBC's "Scoop" gossip columnist, the glamorous Walls is more recently author of the blockbuster memoir "The Glass Castle." If anyone of our age has a claim to self-pity or a right to complain, Walls surely has few competitors.

Instead, she's a human smackdown for people obsessing about life's unfairness. Distilling Walls' more eloquent words, her story's moral might go something like this:

Life's hard, it ain't fair, grow up.

On a higher plane, her book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of forgiveness, and the recently faded truth that family love trumps all else - including the best government programs, the latest mood-altering pill, or the most empathetic therapy group.

After talking to Walls, I can say without fear of contradiction that she hasn't wasted a nanosecond examining the depths of her navel. Rather, she has gathered the tattered threads of her impoverished childhood and spun the sort of golden life to which lesser mortals feel entitled.

Walls' story begins with one of those throat-clutching, Good-God-Martha! leads about which journalists fantasize: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."

Suffice it to say, one does not stop reading there.

Walls then recounts a picaresque childhood under the misguided lights of her father Rex - a brilliant, visionary, vagabond drunk who gives his children stars for Christmas (they pick one from the desert sky under which they sleep on blankets) and promises to build a glass castle someday - and mother Rose Marie, an artist who never sells a painting, yet sustains a Maynard G. Krebs aversion to steady work.

Told from the perspective of the child she was, Walls' memoir reads like a protective services file, almost too bad to be true. She and her three siblings forage for food in garbage cans, wear ragged clothes without buttons, share 4 inches of water to bathe once a week, sleep in cardboard boxes, fend off various randy relatives, and learn the art of "skedaddle" - skipping town when bills come due.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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