The Library of America edition of the Novels and Stories of Shirley Jackson is certainly a must-have for any novice writer or true appreciator of the genre of the gothic and psychological. It is a spot-on collection that encompasses all the vital works, like The Haunting of Hill House, which was a nominee for the 1960 National Book Award and which also inspired the famous black and while film by Ray Wise. Also included is the classic novel of human alienation, We have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as a whole gamut of superb short stores, obviously the most notable ones being The Lottery, Louisa, Please Come Home and The Possibility of Evil, the latter two being winners of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award. However, awards aside, I think all the stories are fantastic and unique in their own way, and I cannot personally choose one story over the other and declare it as being the best. Usually, The Lottery, captures that coveted honor, but there are others that could easily claim first prize. Each story is very satisfying, and if a reader does have a gravitational pull towards literary works that explore themes on the darker side of human nature, this collection will certainly whet the hungry reading appetite.
Shirley Jackson has always been a favorite writer of mine, primarily because of her strong grasp and liberal use of the psychological. Her insights into the mind numbing and chilling elements of certain human behaviors and thought processes often convey a deeper and more probing definition of what evil horror is and what more it can become. A little act of evil is not so little in the grand universality of human existence, for any small nondescript villainous deed-even verbal-can connote drastic long term repercussions that can swell into newer and larger evils. Time and place is not so important in Jackson’s work. It plays second fiddle. The real drama lies in the psychological development and inherited warped belief systems of her numerous characters, what they say, how they interpret what they say and how they justify what they say. What’s even worse is when they (the characters) put their beliefs and justifications into practice. That is what is so disturbing! All of these things are clearly evinced in her use of the most mundane of circumstances and the most bucolic (or not) of settings. Some writers feel it is necessary to offer a generically ghoulish bad guy wielding a knife with evil intentions to convey a larger sociological and or political and psychological truth. But with the realism of Shirley Jackson, it’s her subtlety that starkly highlights the horrors. If one were to give Shirley Jackson a lone gothic structure with a rumored killer on or near the premisses, she would roll with it to the hilt, and by the end of the work, as so happens with We have Always Lived in the Castle, the monster would not necessarily be the person you’d immediately suspect. Her work is unsettling and disconcerting, to say the lest, and it can leave you very much off kilter, especially when you find yourself in the same ordinary places of life that she so sparingly yet eloquently writes about, like a kitchen or a small apartment or a place of work, etc. The continuity is shaken. Nothing is off limits, because places aren’t evil - people are.
This is definitely a worthy collection for anyone’s home library, and while it does not contain all of Shirley Jackson’s works, it does have the essentials, enough to satisfy her hard core admirers and more than enough to introduce to a new generation of readers unfamiliar with her work. This collection was selected and edited by none other than Joyce Carol Oates, another great chronicler of the emotionally dispossessed. This and Jackson’s other books, especially Come Along With Me, would be worthy of ownership, as the latter work has many of her essays on writing. But overall, a great collection.
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