by Shirley Jackson
In her gothic visions of small-town America, Jackson, the author of such masterworks as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, turns an ordinary world into a supernatural nightmare. This eclectic collection goes beyond her horror writing, revealing the full spectrum of her literary genius. In addition to Come Along with Me, Jackson's unfinished novel about the quirky inner life of a lonely widow, it features sixteen short stories and three lectures she delivered during her last years.
Shirley Jackson's unique style shines through here-- more so in some pieces than others. My favorites from this collection would probably be Come Along With Me (though of course it's unfinished), "The Summer People" (though I skipped it this time, as I'd read it fairly recently), "A Visit", "The Rock", "A Day in the Jungle", "The Little House", and "The Bus".
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--Come Along With Me
I enjoyed this unfinished novel more than any of the short stories. Memorable. Amusing, but also curious, with a good seasoning of the bizarre. What a shame that it will never be finished!
-"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." ...It depends on how I'm feeling. I think I used to make eye contact and smile more often than I do now-- unless I'm in an especially good mood. These days, I'm more likely to be one of the people avoiding that connection. Sometimes, you just don't want the stress of human interaction. If I can help someone by speaking to them/answering a question, I'm glad to do so, but to make eye contact with every stranger I pass... No, it doesn't hold much appeal.
-"'I've just buried my husband,' I said. 'I've just buried mine,' she said. 'Isn't it a relief?' I said. 'What?' she said. 'It was a very sad occasion,' I said. 'You're right,' she said, 'it's a relief.'"
-On having the second sight: "I could see what the cat saw."
-"If more people kept more things to themselves this world would be a better place." ...Good thing you didn't live in the Internet age, lady.
-Mrs. Angela Motorman's dislike of department stores-- and enjoyment of a good fight with them and the telephone company-- reminded me of some of Jackson's other works that I've read. Trouble with/dislike of department stores seems to be a theme with her!
Wha...? I don't think I completely got this one. Maybe there's nothing to get, beyond a feeling of deep unease over the disconnect between Janice's cheerful, casual manner and the troubling nature of what she's saying.
-- "Tootie in Peonage"
Ugh, M'Tootie is one of those characters that you can't help but hate. (Or at least that was my reaction to her.)
--"A Cauliflower in Her Hair"
Another that was an exercise in frustration. Mr. Garland needs a good slap across the face, but Mrs. Garland irritates, too. ...Still, I reserve my finest dislike for Mr. Garland. Irk irk irk!
--"I Know Who I Love"
This one... I was sad for Catharine, but at some point it felt a tinge too melodramatic. And then the end... Sad, again. Emptiness.
--"The Beautiful Stranger"
I don't know what to think! Very, very odd-- and oddest of all, that ending.
--"The Summer People"
I've read that one before, so I skipped it this time.
We're probably "supposed" to sympathize more with Mrs. Montague than Miss Oakes... I have sympathy for both, but the part of the story from Mrs. Montague's perspective just tires me.
After starting this one, I recognized it as one I'd already read, but I decided to stick with it, as it's an intriguing story.
This one leaves me with questions-- which is true for just about all of Jackson's stories, I think. Is the mysterious Mr. Johnson Death? (He's come for one of the two lady visitors-- "It had to be one or the other of you..."-- though he doesn't care which he gets.) Or is he the Devil? (He seems to spend most of his time sowing seeds of discontent and suspicion-- trying to stir up doubt in Paula's mind about her relationships and her future. He casually suggests that parts of the house could be at risk of fire, but she'd be perfectly safe in this room... Hint, hint.) Why can the landlady, Mrs. Carter, see and hear him? Is she a ghost?
--"A Day in the Jungle"
After starting out as the story of a woman fleeing an unhappy marriage, this tale suddenly veers off to a very odd place. On a short walk through the city, the protagonist suffers from a series of bizarre fears, one following closely on the heels of another-- and by the time she reaches her destination, where she's meeting with her estranged husband, she seems to have forgotten why she left him at all, in her relief at the safe familiarity he represents. Is she using his familiarity as a crutch? By staying with her "safe" husband, is she settling for the devil she knows? Or is her husband perhaps not so bad after all? Maybe this mental/emotional instability/unreliability is the norm for her.
This brought back memories of elementary school slumber parties and sleepovers. Yes, there's a lot of truth in this story. However, the father seems like a grump. (Of course an eleven-year-old can handle a party with four of her friends! Good grief!) And the older brother seems to think he runs the joint... But aside from that and the rather ridiculous "dueling record players" segment, I enjoyed this jaunt down memory lane.
-"When Jannie came home from school I made her lie down and rest, pointing out in one of the most poignant understatements of my life that she would probably be up late that night."
-"Linda's party dress was of orlon [acrylic], which all of them simply adored. Linda said if she did say it herself, the ruffles never got limp."
--"Louisa, Please Come Home"
We never really learn why Louisa has run away (since apparently it's not all due to her trouble at college), but I found it easy enough to just focus on what she does tell us (how she made her way) and not think about the family she's left behind-- until the end. ...And then it's all very strange. It feels like Louisa herself may not know why she left. The fact that she was an adult-- 19--when she ran away makes her actions all the more bizarre. At that age, why not just tell your family that you want to move out and live on your own? I'm sure her parents wouldn't have been pleased, but legally, they couldn't have stopped her. Though she took money from her father when she ran away, it doesn't seem that she actually needed much of it, since she got a job and was supporting herself in very short order. This is an odd one.
--"The Little House"
Thinking back on this story, I enjoyed it... but at the time, I found parts of it a little melancholy. All the things left behind by "Aunt"-- everything just where she last set them down before her death... We lost Granny L. in January, and I find myself thinking about her a lot, these days... That aspect of this story hit close to home, so I was (unreasonably?) angry with the niece for her increasing callousness toward her Aunt's home and belongings. On one hand, I understand that she needs to make the house her own. It shouldn't remain exactly the same. It's not a museum. On the other hand, there are ways of making the house your own without being disrespectful of the woman from whom you've inherited it. ...And so, yes, I approve of the "busybody" neighbor women and their (blatantly false) insinuation that there's a murderer who keeps an eye on the place. (Heh heh heh... (g))
This one feels like a nightmare from start to finish. Is Miss Harper stuck in some sort of Twilight Zone loop? Is the Ricket's Landing roadhouse her own childhood home in some alternate reality? What's up with the young voice on the bus-- the one who says she's running away? The doll's rejection of Miss Harper ("Go away, old lady") feels particularly poignant...
--"Experience and Fiction"
An interesting essay on fiction-writing-- specifically, how an author's real life experiences can translate into effective fiction. I was especially intrigued by the tidbits about The Haunting of Hill House. Also, this: "Let me just point out right here and now that my unconscious mind has been unconscious for a number of years now and it is my firm intention to keep it that way. When I have nightmares about a horrid building it is the horrid building I am having nightmares about, and no one is going to talk me out of it; that is final."
--"The Night We All Had Grippe"
Jackson wrote that this was the most direct "real life to short story" translation she'd penned (if I remember correctly). Though it had several amusing anecdotal moments, most of it felt like a too-detailed description of a game of "musical beds". The payoff wasn't quite high enough for me.
--"Biography of a Story"
The story in question is Jackson's most famous-- "The Lottery". There's some fascinating background information here-- and I loved the snippets from the mail readers sent in-- but at some point, those snippets became repetitive. Paring them down slightly to include just the best might have helped.
-"One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers."
I skipped it this time, since I've read it multiple times in the past.
--"Notes for a Young Writer"
It's always interesting to get a glimpse into how a successful author approaches writing. Many of these tips will be familiar to anyone who's ever read anything about writing fiction, but they still provide insight for those curious about Jackson's particular style.
-Jackson indicates that she wrote these notes at least partially for the benefit of one of her daughters, who had expressed interest in writing. I wonder if that daughter went on to do much writing...
-"It is not enough to let your characters talk as people usually talk because the way people usually talk is extremely dull."
-"Also, if your heroine's hair is golden, call it yellow." Ha!