Rex Walls: Family Patriarch, Inventor, and Alcoholic

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Who is Rex Walls in The Glass Castle? How did his idea of a glass castle for his family to live in help inspire Jeannette to write her memoir?

In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ father Rex is an alcoholic, frequently fights with Jeannette’s mother, and spends the family’s money on alcohol rather than buying the family food. However, Jeannette has a special relationship with her father.

Keep reading to find out more about Jeannette Walls’ father, Rex Walls.

Rex Walls: Father Knows Best

Rex Walls was a smart but unruly patriarch. He was a former Air Force pilot and had vast knowledge of science, physics, and engineering. He was known as a man who could fix everything and talk his way out of anything. These traits should have added up to success for Rex and his family, but his inability to settle down and follow the rules added up to the opposite. 

During Jeannette’s early childhood, Rex moved the family around the desert like a traveling circus. They’d stop in one small cowpoke town after another, set up a life for a few weeks to months, then pack up and start again somewhere else. Rex said they had to keep moving to stay ahead of the law, which was always on his tail, or wealthy businessmen who wanted to steal his ideas. Rex fancied himself an inventor and always had some scheme or another that was sure to help him strike it rich. In reality, Rex was simply dodging bill collectors. 

Striking it rich was Rex’s goal, as was being able to build the Glass Castle for his family, a sprawling home made completely of glass and powered by solar energy. He carried the blueprints everywhere the family went, and Jeannette and her siblings would help him design it.

Jeannette believed in her father and his plans for the future, but until those plans came to fruition, she and her family suffered. However, Jeannette Walls and Rex Walls had a strong relationship.

Checking Out Rex Walls Style

Jeannette had been hospitalized for six weeks when her parents decided it had been long enough. One day, Rex walked into her room and said they were about to check out Rex Walls style. Jeanette questioned the decision, but he told her to trust him. To Jeannette Walls, Rex Walls was wise and she trusted him.

She could smell Rex’s signature scent of stale whiskey, cigarettes, and hair product when he leaned over to pick her up. Rex scurried down the hall with Jeannette in his arms. Outside, the whole family sat waiting in the running blue station wagon, the Blue Goose. Rex placed her in the back seat and told her not to worry. She was finally safe. 

Jeannette was back cooking hotdogs days after returning home. She also had a new obsession with fire. She started testing how long she could hold her finger over a candle flame and stared in awe at garbage fires in her neighborhood. She played with matches and made small fires with paper, debris, and plastic dolls. Her parents were proud she’d embraced her accident so bravely, especially Jeannette Walls’ father.

Rex Walls: Still the Man of the House

Jeannette had tried to help her parents a few times, including buying Rex a supply of new winter gear. But they would never accept anything from her. Rose Mary blamed the city, saying it was too easy to be homeless in New York. Jeannette accepted that there was nothing she could do, but her inability to help wasn’t just about her parents refusal. She was struggling to save money for school and, in fact, was short a thousand dollars for her final year’s tuition. 

Rex had taken a keen interest in Jeannette’s education. He read all the books on her course lists so he could help her with her work if she needed it. When he found out she might have to drop out of school, he told her to meet him at Lori’s place. When she arrived, Rex dumped out a bag full of small bills totaling $950. He also had a mink coat she could sell for the other fifty. 

Jeannette didn’t want to accept the money, but he insisted she take it. Rex said he’d earned the money playing poker because it was his duty to take care of his daughter. Jeannette took the money and paid her tuition in ones, fives, and twenties. 

Rex and Rose Mary found an abandoned building on the Lower West Side to squat in. There were other squatters who lived the same life of a nomad, an adventure around every corner, and shared her parents disdain for rules. Rex hot-wired electricity from a nearby pole so they could all have heat and lights. The apartment they’d taken up residence in reminded Jeannette of their home in Welch. It was all she could do not to run out. 

Rex Walls: Later Life and Death

When Jeannette graduated from college, the only person in attendance was Brian. Her sisters had to work, and Rose Mary thought it sounded boring. Jeannette had asked Rex not to go. She said she couldn’t risk him showing up drunk and causing a scene. Rex complied, saying he didn’t need to see her get the diploma to be proud of her.  Jeannette Walls and Rex Walls were still close, even though their lives were on different paths.

The End of the Road

Both Jeannette and Brian grew distant from their parents after Maureen left. Brian married and moved to a house on Long Island, and he now had a baby daughter. Lori was more in touch with Rex and Rose Mary, but they stopped having family get-togethers. 

A year after Maureen left, Rex called Jeannette and asked to see her. He also asked if she’d bring him a bottle of vodka. When Jeannette arrived to their tenement, a half-gallon of vodka in tow, she found her parents snuggled under a blanket in bed. They were older, more worn and weathered, and overly thin. 

Rex announced that he was dying. He said he’d contracted a rare tropical blood disease from a Nigerian drug dealer. In actuality, all the years of smoking and drinking had caught up to him. He had a few weeks to months left, which meant he might not live to see sixty. 

Despite all of the ways Rex had made their lives chaos, Jeannette couldn’t imagine life without him. They stayed up talking about old times, and Rex reassured her that he was okay with his life ending. Even though he’d never built the Glass Castle, he’d had a hell of a time planning it with her. Jeannette was the one good thing he’d done with his life. She’d made him proud. 

Two weeks later, Rex had a heart attack. Jeannette, Lori, and Rose Mary were at the hospital where he was hooked up to life support. Jeannette had the sudden urge to check him out Rex Walls style. An hour later, Rex died. 

Rex Walls: Family Patriarch, Inventor, and Alcoholic

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Jeannette Walls's "The Glass Castle" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Glass Castle summary :

  • The author's unbelievable childhood as her absent parents went on alcoholic binges
  • How Jeannette and her siblings escaped their parents to strike out on their own
  • The complicated relationship Jeannette had with her parents before they died

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

One thought on “Rex Walls: Family Patriarch, Inventor, and Alcoholic

  • November 4, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    Rex Walls was not an Air Force pilot. A photo of his headstone gives his rank as A2C. This is a low level enlisted rank, not an officer rank, and Air Force pilots are officers. It’s not surprising that he claimed to have been a pilot. Alcoholics are notorious for lying. If even half of what the book says about him is true he must have been a horrible man.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.