The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls is the author’s third book and sort-of second novel. Her first book, The Glass Castle, was a masterful memoir of family dysfunction; her second, Half Broke Horses, was subtitled “A True-Life Novel” because it is her maternal grandmother’s life story in the form of a novel, based mostly on her mother’s memories. (I haven’t read it.)
According to a New York Times article, after The Glass Castle was published in 2005, whenever the author was questioned about the veracity of the startling memoir of her dysfunctional parents, she would say it was all true and protest that she couldn’t write fiction. “I’ve got to do some serious backpedaling now,” she says in the New York Times interview promoting her new work of fiction, The Silver Star, “I’ve got no more wacky relatives left to exploit!”
The audiobook of The Silver Star is narrated by the author, who has a slightly Southern accent, maybe, and describes the experience in this brief promotional video as “a hoot”. She identifies with Bean, the 12-year-old narrator of the story, who she says is a “linear thinker” – unlike her imaginative 15-year-old sister Liz and their wacky, careless mother, Charlotte – “she doesn’t make things up.” The author is an experienced media personality and she narrates the book very well, in a straightforward way, with sincerity, as if she actually remembers some of the events. And many times over the course of listening I thought how similar some of it was to The Glass Castle. Charlotte – living her dream and “finding the magic”, trying to make it big as a singer/songwriter – is temperamentally a lot like the author’s mother was described to be in The Glass Castle. There is no feckless, drunken father in The Silver Star, but when the girls are abandoned too long by their mother (whose absences they loyally try to hide from authorities for as long as they can), they run to their loving but ineffectual Uncle Tinsley living in the old family home in Virginia.
The author acknowledges the similarities in her books in that same promotional video about narrating The Silver Star:
I think fans of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses will recognize…a lot. I think people write about what they know about and The Silver Star does draw on a number of childhood experiences. Sometimes they’re experiences that I didn’t cover for some reason or another and they continue to haunt me so I wanted to revisit them.” In addition to a number of events, a number of the themes from The Glass Castle also reemerge in The Silver Star, such as children taking on adult roles, taking on responsibilities that their parents maybe should have taken on.”
Writing a novel rather than a memoir, the author has more freedom to embellish, change events around, and add an entire plot line to build the story on. But knowing the author’s background from The Glass Castle, I felt like I was constantly filling in blanks when imagining the characters of Bean, Liz, and Charlotte. It’s hard for me to decide how successfully the author has made the transition to novelist because of that. I don’t know how well this novel would have done if it had been published first, as a work of fiction. I enjoyed listening to it and highly recommend the audiobook edition. I think the author’s narration helped a lot to sell me on the story and the characters as seen through the eyes of Bean.
The Silver Star will be a good choice for many book clubs because of its themes of family dysfunction, coming of age, and socioeconomic inequality. Also because (despite the disappointing failings of many of the main characters) there is a clear villain of the story (Jerry Maddox, evil mill foreman and enemy of Uncle Tinsley) and a true heroine (Bean herself.)
The Silver Star
Simon & Schuster Audio
8 hrs on 7 CDs
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher for review.