Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth FranklinThis is a well-researched biography on Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite writers. I found the early pages hard to get through as Franklin focused too long and too deeply on Jackson’s forebears, but once Shirley took center stage, I was captivated. Franklin not only brings Shirley Jackson to life, but her times as well.

Shirley wrote during the repressive 1950s, when housewife June Cleaver was the womanly ideal. Raised by a cold mother who bought into the whole June Cleaver thing, Shirley internalized and struggled against the societal norms that dictated her life, which probably explains why houses figured so prominently in her fiction.

Most people know Jackson as the writer of maybe the most notorious short story in American literature–The Lottery–and to this day, The Haunting of Hill House is still one hell of a scary read! However, she also penned two comic memoirs of motherhood in the 1950s: Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. Although marketed as light reading, there is an edge in these books, a lack of sentimentality that is the hallmark of truth. To me, these books are the other side of Hill House–only this woman had not yet be made mad by the house she kept, though give her a few years.

Shirley Jackson was at the height of her powers when a massive heart attack felled her at the age of 45. Most of the obits identified her as a horror writer, which automatically lowered her stock, but she is a writer worthy of remembrance.

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