The Enigma of Shirley Jackson

I’m an average-enough America boy who went to high school in the West in the ’60s, so of course I read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Earns every whit of its reputation. (Should add that the fine-tuning of the creepiness becomes more apparent if you re-read it after living in New England.) While still a teenager, I went through the short-story collection with “The Lottery” as well as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in a Castle. I considered Jackson the incarnation of a pro writer. Meticulous, dedicated craft. Where did she get these wild ideas?

I knew that Jackson had died relatively recently, but I assumed she was like 20 years older than she was. Whoa — only 48? What was going on here? For a long time, it was hard to find out. That she wrote these light-touch best-selling domestic non-fictions only added to the puzzle. (I’ve sampled a bit, but even the apex of such stuff is not my thing.)

Now there’s yet another collection of posthumous work (the third, I believe). This line by Mr. Theroux, however, is a tad peculiar: “We will have to wait for next year’s promised biography by Ruth Franklin, who wrote the foreword to this volume, to know how deeply Jackson was affected by the harassment and the shunning.”

There already is a full bio of Jackson, which resolved much of my unsolved questions, though I only know it through this review. Interesting that Judy Oppenheimer’s work is not on the “Recommended Reading” list at the Jackson website. Shuttered house of shadows, indeed.

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