I am planning on doing a weekly post called “Monday Memories” in which I talk about my book and reading memories, post about re-reads, or otherwise reflect on the literary life (that phrase makes me feel like such a snob, but I can’t think of a better way to put it). Books have been a major force in my life and I’d like to take a little time to acknowledge the various ways in which reading has shaped me.
Shirley Jackson has been a favorite author of mine since my teenage years… I discovered Shirley Jackson the way (I assume) most people do- as a middle schooler reading the short story, “The Lottery.” Coincidentally, a movie version of Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was released around the same time we read “The Lottery” in school. I used to fancy myself a fan of ghost stories, so I was pretty excited to watch The Haunting… I don’t think I knew going in that it was based on a book by Shirley Jackson or that it was the same Shirley Jackson who’d written the short story I’d loved in school. I think that there was a “based on the book” credit in the opening, so watching the movie (which I remember as being not great, although it helped explain why Owen Wilson’s nose is so flat) inspired me to check out Jackson’s Haunting and at some point I made the connection that she was the writer of “The Lottery.” I later went on to read all of her published work.
At some point in high school I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and I was tickled to come across a few blog reviews which reminded me of how awesome Jackson was and inspired me to get my re-read on. I decided to borrow the audiobook from the library, so that I could stop listening to radio commercials while I drive.
This story is creepy. The narrator, Merrikat Blackwood, lives in relative seclusion with her older sister, Constance, and her elderly Uncle Julian… the rest of the Blackwoods are dead. The Blackwoods are taunted and hated by the villagers for reasons that slowly come out as the book progresses. This book offers a look into the mind of someone who is, at the very least, out of touch with reality. At the same time, though, Merrikat is so very tied to the everyday (Today we neaten the house. Tuesday and Fridays I go to the village…etc) that her craziness sneaks up on you and fools you and you sympathize with her. This is what Jackson excels at- twisting the everyday, the ordinary, and the usual into the creepy and disturbing. That is exactly the sort of creepy that is worth reading and re-reading.
I am now compelled to go re-read all the Shirley Jackson I can find. (Sadly, I think my mom got rid of all the books I left at her house during college and that I may have to rebuild my collection.) If you have not read Shirley Jackson, I highly recommend you do. She is a fabulous writer and I only wish she were more prolific!