Published by Scribner
Publication date: June 11th 2013
The Silver Star is author Jeannette Walls’ latest foray into fiction. Her memoir, The Glass Castle, is an intimate look at her childhood, when benign neglect, became not-so benign, as neither of her parents had the selflessness or aptitude to raise children. The Silver Star treads familiar territory in that the mother, while flamboyant and fun, is a narcissist with no interest in the responsibilities that come with children. Her quest to become a singer/songwriter is the focus of her life and she thinks nothing of leaving her daughters, Liz and Jean (called Bean), for days on end while pursuing her dreams. By the ages of fifteen and twelve, both girls are well versed in taking care of themselves. It isn’t until their mother leaves and sends a letter later saying she won’t be back anytime soon that the girls realize they can’t keep disguising her absence forever. They use the money she’s left and buy bus tickets to go to Virginia and visit her family. When they arrive and find that their uncle is a widower and lives an isolated life in a decaying mansion they decide to integrate themselves into his life and make one of their own.
It is easy to become frustrated with aspects of this novel. Reading of children left on their own, basically abandoned by a feckless parent, is difficult. Much happens to the girls that should not. At the very least they are beset with worries about money and the next meal, something no child should have to think about. But while none of it should have happened, that same upbringing (or lack thereof) is what gives Bean her indomitable spirit. Liz, with some of her mother’s artistic streak, is smart and able to navigate the mysteries of the adult world but only up to a point. When that line is crossed, her mind closes in on itself and she withdraws. It is Bean who refuses to accept the situation and is determined to make it right. She is able to see the world exactly as it is but with no intention of accepting it that way.
“Every time we run into a problem we just leave,” I said. “But we always run into a new problem in the new place, and then we have to leave there, too. We’re always just leaving. Can’t we for once just stay somewhere and solve the problem?”
Walls writes with the simplicity of someone who knows a story to be true. Bean’s voice carries beyond the adult aspects of their situation and into the everyday of childhood. She relates the oddities and sameness of her life with acceptance, but not cynicism. To her mind, eating chicken potpies for breakfast or having eggs and bacon are both options. She worries, laughs, plots, and experiences all the joys and miseries of that time of life and yet, also deals with the issues of adult life. Somehow, with the instincts of a real mother, Walls makes sure this intrepid girl prevails.