Sometimes when I blog on here, I feel like I’m farting into an empty room. But on the off chance that someone is hiding behind a curtain just waiting for a whiff of my verbal diarrhea, I would like to let you know recently I began reading a few books by a really great author. Her name is Shirley Jackson. You might remember her from high school when you were assigned to read her classic short story, The Lottery, in your English Lit class.
This summer my Shirley Jackson obsession commenced when I read her book called They Have Always Lived in the Castle. My wife was assigned it for a college class she took on the occult in literature. She became obsessed with it and implored me to read it. Although, I really didn’t need a lot of convincing, because there’s a black cat on the cover. Sold.
This book is dark, strange, and mysterious. It is hard to explain. Maybe it is sort of like Grey Gardens mixed with The Addams Family? It deals heavily with living in a small town and feeling persecuted for being “other” by the people who live there. From what I’ve read about Shirley Jackson, this theme runs heavily throughout a lot of her books, because it is what she and her family experienced living in a small town in Vermont. According to Wikipedia,
“In his 2006 introduction of the Penguin Classics edition, Jonathan Lethem stated that the recurring town is “pretty well recognizable as North Bennington, Vermont,” where Jackson and her husband, Bennington professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, encountered strong “reflexive anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism.”
Over the weekend, I finished reading The Haunting of Hill House. It was soooo good and also soooo scary! It’s not gory and it does not have gratuitous violence. So if you are a horror fanatic who feels like the Saw movies are so basic, then you probably will not get a kick out of this book. However, if you are like me and love ghost stories and suspense and psychological mysteries, then you will love spending time in Hill House.
Because this book creeped me out so much, I haven’t gone down to the basement to do laundry for a week. I went out and bought new pairs of socks instead. I also got scared reading it while on my treadmill in my apartment. I had propped my Kindle up and was in the middle of a really creepy part when I heard a strange noise that went, “tink, tink, tink…” At first I dismissed my fears figuring I’m just riled up from the book. But then I started descending into paranoia as the “tink, tink, tink” sound continued. It sounded to me like a ghost was sitting right behind me on the floor clipping their toenails. In my mind, I was super scared. Then I realized that a ghost clipping its toenails was probably not the rational conclusion I had decided it was, but more likely the hypothesis of someone (i.e. me) who was ridiculous.
So yeah, the book is creepy. The best part of it is both the inward and outward dialogue of the characters. Everything that is said feels like a clue or a foreshadowing. And the way she writes can sometimes feel like you’re in a world where maybe nothing is real or what it seems to be. It can feel disconcerting, but ultimately intriguing. Like an episode of Arrested Development, I feel like I could go back and re-read this book several times only to find new meanings and insight into what is happening each go round.
Now I’m reading Life Among the Savages. It is a complete 180 from The Hauting of Hill House. Savages is a comedic memoir about Jackson’s life as a wife and mother.
I’m only up to page 75, but I absolutely LOVE this book already. It has my exact favorite brand of humor. It is dry and droll with an eye for the absurd. The first time I picked it up, I read the first few pages out loud to Coleen and we cracked up laughing. She just captures the personality quirks of people and their weird verbiage and logic perfectly.
Let me put it this way, I LOVE David Sedaris and, so far, this book ranks up there for me in wit and weirdness.
Here are a few quotes:
“I took my coffee into the dining room and settled down with the morning paper. A woman in New York had had twins in a taxi. A woman in Ohio had just had her seventeenth child. A twelve-year-old girl in Mexico had given birth to a thirteen-pound boy. The lead article on the woman’s page was about how to adjust the older child to the new baby. I finally found an account of an axe murder on page seventeen, and held my coffee cup up to my face to see if the steam might revive me.”
― Shirley Jackson,
― Shirley Jackson,