Practically a household name by now, Jeanette Walls won acclaim for her memoir The Glass Castle. Her Appalachian family’s dysfunctional story resonated with many.
The Silver Star is fiction, but you see some of the same character shapes or tropes. Two sisters abandoned by a bi-polar mom head across the country to find refuge with their uncle, who is a reclusive hoarder. They learn a lot of secrets about their respective fathers, and about mom’s history in the family.
But they learn harder lessons as well, about what it means to trust someone in authority and how to cope with self-esteem versus whether the law values you as a human being or not. On the surface the story is quite straightforward, but underneath so much of what isn’t said haunts the reader. It’s that characteristic Walls style: here’s what happened, now you decide what it means.
The ending is perhaps (small spoiler alert) a tiny bit more satisfying than real life sometimes allows. But it’s fiction so we should get SOME grace out of dysfunction. I enjoyed the book, and honestly it bordered on YA fiction. A coming of age story that involves a little more violence than parents might like, but a whole lot less than most actually face. Set before the 2000s, it also has a lovely nostalgia for those who attended school in the ’70s and ’80s. If some of the characters are swiftly drawn, the main ones are people we’ve known, went to school with, look up now and again on Facebook. Two thumbs up.
I got sent this book as I was leaving the Book Editor position for the Journal of Appalachian Studies. It was a wild ride (the book, although so was being editor).
Wells sets up a bizarre but plausible set of circumstances, and rides the wild waves from there: an old guy who struck it rich as a conspiracy theory revolutionary wants to reconnect to sisters he knew in childhood. All of them had weird childhoods, in the Jeanette Walls sense. The girls used to build little matchbox houses for their toys and called them “safe houses,” and kept them in a trunk–the same trunk where the younger sister hid drug money she stole from her older sister when she started running them….
That’s partly how the old rich guy got rich, and partly why he has a panic room. And partly why he loves the sisters, particularly the older one, so much. She turns in later years to religion and marries a preacher with a shady past that reaches into the present every now and again, with no complaints from him. (Every character in this novel is complicated, but not deep, is the best way to put it?)
Each chapter in the novel features one of the six main characters, and you will find this featured in the book group questions at its end: how do these different perspectives give the reader any sense of what’s going on inside all this chaos?
Good question. This book is chock full of things that don’t make sense, except, well, contextually they do. If you like Vonnegut, you’ll like Wells. Anything goes. Including the rather satisfying ending.