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Shirley Jackson is, of course, best remembered for The Lottery (see review), one of the great short stories of all time, and for The Haunting of Hill House, which has twice been made into a movie.  But this terrific novel is every bit as good as those others and may in fact be the best thing she ever wrote.

From what I've read, it seems that Ms Jackson's work may well have been an expression of her own psychological problems.  If that's true, this story is even more frightening.  It is about two sisters, the older one meek and shy, the other assertive and nearly demonic, who barricade themselves inside a gutted mansion to escape the local townsfolk who torment them because they suspect that the girls were involved in the mass killing of four family members.

The psychological overtones are plentiful and troubling.  There is, first of all, the sense in which it appears that it is only when together that the two sisters form one complete personality.  Second, the crime involved is not merely murder, but murder of the family, that ancient taboo.  Third, the two are completely alienated from the society around them, even ignoring the few friendly neighbors who come by to try and help.  Jackson apparently had a horrendous relationship with her mother and with the people of Bennington, where she lived.  Local legend even had it that The Lottery was based on an incident where local boys threw stones at her.  Finally there is a strong indication that not only are the girls happier in their isolation, they may truly be better off by themselves and they may be more "normal" than the people in town.

At any rate, the story is creepy and sly and a great deal of fun.  This is one of the truly great gothic horror novels of all time.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Shirley Jackson (3 books reviewed)
Shirley Jackson Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Shirley Jackson
    -ESSAY: My Life With R.H. Macy: Shirley Jackson's short stint with the department store (Shirley Jackson, December 22, 1941, New Republic)
    -PODCAST: Charles by Shirley Jackson (Cultured Bumpkin)
    -ESSAY: Shirley Jackson: celebrating 75 years of taut, ambiguous, disturbing stories (Bernice M. Murphy, June 25, 2024, The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: Stranger Than Fiction: The Paranormal Researcher Who Inspired Shirley Jackson (Michele Debczak, Oct 27, 2022, Mental Floss)
    -ESSAY: SHIRLEY JACKSON GETS A JOB AT MACY’S (New England Historical Society)
    -ESSAY: 12 Chilling Facts About Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House' Anna Green, Oct 11, 2018, Mental Floss)
    -INTERVIEW: ‘The Letters of Shirley Jackson’ Is the Autobiography We’ve Been Waiting For: Laurence Jackson Hyman, son of author Shirley Jackson, talks to Shondaland about her new book and his mother’s literary legacy. (Sandra Ebejer, 8/20/21, Shondaland)
-ESSAY: Shirley Jackson and the Unsettled Mystery of Life: On the disquieting fiction of the author of “The Lottery” and the chronicler of James Harris. (BILL RYAN, OCTOBER 21, 2021, The Bulwark) -ESSAY: Why Shirley Jackson is a Reader’s Writer: On the Brilliance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Intimacy of Everyday Evil (Jonathan Lethem, February 24, 2021, Lit Hub)

Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO: (Brighton HS, Rochester, NY)
    -BIO: Life and Work
    -The Shirley Jackson Page (American Women Writers)
    -The Haunted World of Shirley Jackson  (Donna Dedman)
    -Shirley Jackson (Most Web)
    -ETEXT: The Lottery Shirley Jackson (1948)
    -ESSAY: A Reading of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (Peter Kosenko)
    -ESSAY: the haunted hearth (margaret quamme, George Jr.)
    -SHORT STORY: What a Thought by Shirley Jackson (Book Wire)
    -Monstrous Acts & Little Murders: A new collection of unpublished stories betrays the two faces of Shirley Jackson, the writer who created "The Lottery."  (JONATHAN LETHEM, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Dark Thoughts Shirley Jackson (Paula Guran, Dark Echo)
    -The Irrepressible Individual in the Works of Shirley Jackson (Eran Mukamel)
    -REVIEW: Private Demons The Life of Shirley Jackson By Judy Oppenheimer (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: PRIVATE DEMONS The Life of Shirley Jackson By Judy Oppenheimer (Elizabeth Frank, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Just An Ordinary Day By Shirley Jackson. Edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Stewart (Joyce Carol Oates, NY Times Book Review)
     -ESSAY: THE HAUNTING OF SHIRLEY JACKSON  (Judy Oppenheimer, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Term Paper: Shirley Jackson  Life and Work