Shirley Jackson

Since it’s Halloween, I thought a little post about Shirley Jackson would be appropriate.

Called “that patron saint of oddballs” recently by Salon, the contradictions of Shirley Jackson are perhaps best summed up by her final, unfinished work, Come Along With Me.

Although The Lottery is an amazing short story that broke the minds of New Yorker readers when it was printed, and The Haunting of Hill House is a fan favorite novel, I think her oeuvre is too often defined by these particular works. Usually she wasn’t half that dark, even while dealing with eerie and sometimes supernatural themes.

Come Along With Me, the last thing she wrote, is as good a place as any to try to understand what I mean. The novel fragment is narrated by an unnamed woman who claims to speak with spirits. She arrives in a strange boarding house wanting to perform a seance and is accepted only with suspicion by the people of that place. She is an outsider, the stability of her psychology is questionable and her place in the community is far from certain. Woman, outsider, maybe crazy: These are traits she shares with almost all the Jackson heroines; they’re all a bit like good-humored versions of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar. And from their gently tilted perspectives we’re given a unique view of mid-century American society.

Consider this line from Come Along With Me:

He looked at me; I must say I like it better when they look at you; a lot of the time people seem to be scared of finding out that other people have real faces, as though if you looked at a stranger clearly and honestly and with both eyes you might find yourself learning something you didn’t actually want to know.

That’s the kind of perspective you find from Jackson, something utterly true and strange. Her stories shiver with an unreality that reveals the inherent complexity in even the most ordinary activity and then imbues it with bizarre connotation.

I love this cover, although it doesn’t reflect the book.