I read Jeannette Walls’s excellent memoir, The Glass Castle, a couple months ago. I can see where she borrowed from her (frankly, insane) childhood in The Silver Star, but this novel falls a bit short of her nonfiction.
Set in the 1970s, The Silver Star is narrated by 12 year old Bean, whose mother has abandoned her and Bean’s 15 year old sister Liz in order to pursue her dreams of stardom (the mother seems to suffer greatly from something like manic depression). After a few weeks of eating pot pies and trying to earn a little money, Bean and Liz hop a bus to head to their mother’s hometown in Virgina. Here they manage to make a life with their grumpy old uncle, while still holding out hope that their mother will return.
This book suffers from way too many plotlines, all crammed into about 260 pages. First they make their way to Virginia. Then they (rather quickly) get into their grumpy old uncle’s graces. They learn about their family, and Bean finds out the truth about her father and his death when she was a baby. They deal with small town politics, with the various views about the war, with new students beginning in their school as integration starts. All of this would have made for a fine coming of age in the 1970s sort of story. But then there’s all the nonsense about their awful mother — she comes back for a bit, fights with her brother, then abandons them again. And then what I think was meant to be the big event of the novel — Liz gets assaulted by her boss, an asshole named Jerry Maddox — and the girls are forced to deal with the fallout of her pressing charges against the foreman of the big mill.
I think if either Walls had cut Liz’s story (not that it wasn’t interesting, but we only catch glimpses from Bean’s perspective) or fleshed it out more, then the novel would have really shone. It was still a good read, but it really got stuck between being either too long, or too short.