Haunting Halloween Reading
Shirley Jackson and the classic American ghost story
My book group likes to celebrate Halloween at our October meeting and to select a book to match. This year I suggested Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) because I saw it mentioned as one of the classic ghost stories of the 20th century. The group agreed and also added Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery,” which is perhaps the author’s best-known work and one that many of us read in school. Jackson’s taut prose makes both works quick reads, and I can’t wait to hear the group’s discussion.
Jackson is having a bit a resurgence. There is a new biography out that is getting a lot of press: Shirley Jackson: a Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. (Read an interview with the biographer at Wired Magazine.) I have started reading it and find the approach very engaging. I will now have to read Jackson’s 1962 We Have Always Lived in the Castle as well, since it is considered her masterpiece. (It is being re-released this week by Penguin books as an American classic.)
It’s interesting reading Jackson’s background because it gives added depth to her work. In both Hill House and “The Lottery” the horrors stem from the lives of middle-class women of the early- to mid-20th century, the pre-women's-liberation era of the “feminine mystique.” Women were expected to tend home and family and live up to expectations, particularly their mothers’, all of which Jackson tried and sometimes failed to do. (The domineering, disapproving mother is a staple of her work.)
If you don’t have time to read the biography, read this review of it in The New Yorker to get an overview of this underappreciated writer’s life and work.