August 8th 1965..it is fifty years today since the death of the writer Shirley Jackson, so it seems like a very good day to remember her.
Let Me Tell You - New Stories, Essays and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson was published on July 30th. The publicist at Penguin had clearly done her homework and read here, knowing what I and in turn you might enjoy, and we agreed terms...thank you for contacting me...yes I would like to see the book...but I may not read it for some time and I may not write about it...if you are happy to send on that basis I will be delighted to receive.
Back came the reply...yes of course and even if you only read one story make it Paranoia, and a copy duly arrived...and I was delighted.
I am late to Shirley Jackson, her short story The Lottery my introduction to her writing via the Persephone Book of Short Stories and then nothing more since, but reading Ruth Franklin's Foreword to Let Me Tell You has filled in plenty of gaps. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep of unexpected heart failure at the age of forty-nine leaving her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, and their four children, and a vast legacy of writing. And on reflection probably deep and lasting pools of sadness for her family at such a sudden loss.
As the title suggests, this volume, edited by two of her children, brings together a selection of Shirley Jackson's short stories, essays and observational and opinion pieces which make a book like this a worthwhile investment (had I not been sent a copy I would have wanted to buy one) offering as they do the broad spectrum of a writer's life, their moods and sense of humour.
If you have read The Lottery you will know it packs a punch that takes the breath away, and in my case very unexpectedly too. The story garnered Shirley Jackson little praise from readers and much hate mail putting her under intense scrutiny when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. Of three hundred letters only thirteen 'spoke kindly'. Unperturbed Shirley Jackson went on to write Gothic novels, nightmare fantasies, psychological thrillers along with satire and themes of apocalypse, ghost stories and more...
'Jackson was a master of complexity of mood, an ironic explorer of the dark conflicting inner tyrannies of the mind and the soul.'
Too many short stories in one go?
Need time to stop and think?
Flip ahead to Private Showing, Shirley Jackson's account of taking her young family along to a preview screening of Lizzie, the film version of her book The Bird's Nest.
Or turn to one of several pieces on the art of writing, the process, the sources of inspiration...then flip back to another short story, then forward to The Pleasure and Perils of Dining Out with Children...
I have four children, and I do not believe that parents who take children to dine in restaurants are necessarily insane. I can think of several adequate reasons for taking our children out for dinner. Perhaps the house has burned down and there are no neighbours charitable enough to take us in. Or our helicopter has crashed on the outskirts of twon and the mechanic says, after the manner of mechanics, that no replacement parts can possibly be procured any nearer than Schenectady...'
And what emerges...once I have found out where Schenectady is, and don't let me down Wikipaedia, there might be people reading this who know because they live there...
Schenectady /skɨˈnɛktədi/ (skə-nek-tə-dee) is a city in Schenectady County, New York, United States, of which it is the county seat. The name "Schenectady" is derived from a Mohawk word skahnéhtati meaning "beyond the pines". The city was founded on the south side of the Mohawk River by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, many from the Albany area.
What emerges is a picture of a mortal and human writer, one under no illusions and nursing no pretensions about life or about herself. In short I like Shirley Jackson, I want to read much more by and about her and I will write again about this volume when I have read further.
Ruth Franklin, who write the Foreword quoted above, is currently writing a biography but in the meantime what about the fiction??
Have you read anything be Shirley Jackson...
What are your thoughts...
I know there will be plenty of Shirley Jackson experts out there...where do you suggest I start