November Book Review
Shirley Jackson, best known for her short story ?The Lottery? and the novel ?The Haunting of Hill House,? was a master of the modern gothic story. Stephen King counts her among his major influences, so much so that he dedicated his novel ?Firestarter? to her. It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that Jackson?s talents as a writer begin and end with the gothic story. In addition to her gothic works, Jackson wrote two collections of stories about her family, ?Life Among the Savages,? and ?Raising Demons,? which have more in common with works by David Sedaris or Erma Bombeck than Stephen King.
This new volume, ?Let me Tell You,? arrives in time for the centennial of Jackson?s birth in 2016. This one differs in the scope of the materials included. There are early works, unpublished pieces, essays and reviews, and even a few drawings. ?The collection contains 30 short stories, 11 essays and reviews, 10 family pieces and 5 lectures on the craft of writing.
One of the characteristics that makes Jackson?s writing compelling is her ability to inject a sense of unease into everyday events. The short stories in this collection show her to be a master of making mundane, everyday events, like coming home for dinner, living in a college dorm, or playing poker into eerie circumstances that the reader (at least in my case) didn?t see coming.
This collection doesn?t include much of the supernatural, gothic genre for which Jackson is best remembered. The character in ?The Real Me,? laments about ?writing dainty little biographical tidbits that pretend I am a trim little housewife? then succinctly describes her life as a witch. There are no ghosts in this collection, but there is a Kafkaesque fantasy, and Norse gods make an appearance in an unlikely setting. ?
The strength of this collection is that it showcases Jackson?s talents as a writer outside of the supernatural. There?s an essay about the wonders of Dr. Seuss, advice about how to have a family argument, and musings about Jackson?s favorite kitchen fork. The family humor pieces would be right at home in a modern parenting blog. There is also a series of lectures about the craft of writing in which Jackson analyzes her own work and provides advice for aspiring writers.
?Let Me Tell You? is a welcome addition to Jackson?s published works. Go read it.