Ode to Shirley Jackson

Nothing is more exhilarating for a book nerd than to find another book nerd that totally gets your reading preferences.

Example: I was browsing through my local used bookstore for some reading material, when an employee came up to me and asked if I needed any help. He was an older man, dressed cleanly in a button down shirt and tweed slacks, a look that pairs well with a stack of leather bound books and a glass of brandy.

I replied, “Heck yeah, you can help me!” I followed with an inarticulate list of qualities that I prefer in my books: “Dark and scary but not overly scary. Somewhat creepy. I guess horror? But not just horror. Like, sophisticated horror. Psychological stuff. Um…history. People. Cats…” At the tail end of my babbling, I was just reciting random words.

Luckily, this employee was able to glean some sort of understanding from my rambling. He responded, “Ahh, I see,” and headed into the book aisles, quickly coming back with The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. “I love Shirley Jackson!” I shouted, so that nearby patrons raised their heads from their book browsing in annoyance.

“Good! Great writer,” the employee replied. “Have you read, “We Have Always–”

“Lived in the Castle?” I interjected. “Of course! That’s one of my favorite books of all time.”

“Yes,” he said. “From what you told me, that would be a perfect match.”

We looked at each other for a moment, and I considered the possibility that my soulmate was a man two decades older than me in tweed slacks.

He broke the silence by recommending some other titles that would interest me, and I went home ready for a full day of reading.

shirleyjackson

I’m a sucker for psychological horror. The more a book or movie messes with my head, the more I love it. This is probably why every time I finish a book by Shirley Jackson, I want to proclaim to the world, “I love this woman!” Most people are aware of Shirley Jackson’s brilliance, but I can’t help but reiterating it.

Jackson’s work is coated with such a beautifully subtle horror. There is an innate horror in isolation, bigotry, pettiness, blind conformity, and alienation. She disturbs on a fundamental and mundane level. She writes of the terrors of everyday existence, the villains and disturbing scenarios that have less to do with the supernatural and more to do with the evil of human nature. The Lottery, of course, is one of her most famous works, and it’s pretty easy to find readers who can vividly recollect the horror of first reading it. The Lottery is a great story, but I am even more particularly captivated by the entire book, The Lottery and Other Stories, as a complete work.

shirleyjackson2

Of the many fabulous short stories, The Daemon Lover struck me as particularly disconcerting and heartbreaking, while The Witch was fantastically creepy. The Tooth brought the reader down a road of madness along with the protagonist of the story.

Jackson’s repeated use of the name “James Harris” within the compilation is an ingenious device. Never has a seemingly common name filled me with such foreboding. The name is the presence of evil. It is a sign that things are not alright within this world, and that something sinister lurks behind everyday interactions. It is unsettling to the reader and adds to the overall underlying apprehension that bridges the stories together. In the Epilogue, the reader is introduced to the inspiration behind the name James Harris, and it is just the absolute perfect close to a wonderful set of short stories.

I feel a kinship with this incredible author, and I come back to her work over and over again. As October looms near and the days shorten, I suggest picking up one of her books. As she so beautifully stated, “I delight in what I fear.”

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3 thoughts on “Ode to Shirley Jackson

  1. Hey, I love your drawing of Shirley Jackson here – would you mind if I based an embroidery project on it? I’m hoping to do hand-stitched portraits of a bunch of female writers eventually to hang around my home, suspense/horror novelists and their ilk especially (Daphne du Maurier, Mary Shelley, Flannery O’Connor…) – I love your art style, I think it would translate to needlepoint really nicely!

    You have A+ taste in books, by the way! I’m a huge Shirley Jackson fan – The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels of all time. Something about Eleanor Vance just resonates with me more and more every time I read it, which should possibly worry me.

    Thanks!

    – Kristin-Leigh

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  2. I also dig your taste in books. I love the idea of creating a project based on female writers in the suspense/horror genres. Feel free to use the sketch I did as reference for it. You should share images of your work whenever you finish it up. I wish you well on your artistic endeavors!

    – Whit

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