Tag Archives: Shirley Jackson

Happy “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” and “Deathday” to a LOT of people! Second most had birthday! Fall break!

41. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson – Judy Oppenheimer

The “private demons” of the title turned out to be more along the lines of “communal” demons to me. I related quite heavily to a lot of what’s presented in a pretty novelesque fashion in this biography. And that’s both good and bad. Referring to oneself as “gratuitously difficult” is definitely something I understand wholeheartedly. I also understand trying to save or fix yourself through writing; dating someone who legitimately believes in you but also can’t stop trying to be the center of attention; moving to a new place and having some people make it a point to make sure you never forget you’re not one of them (Outlander! I’m only from one effing state away.); and collecting objects other people find morbid. Bones! Usually not human! I don’t think any of the ones I have are human! Many are fake! Anyway, I’ve always seen myself and what I could become reflected in Shirley Jackson’s work – particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s Merricat (if I was left completely alone it would probably take about a week for me to start ritualizing, just replace Jonah the cat with my pigs, I do not keep sugar on hand though, just for reference).

It really shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d relate to her. I guess I just didn’t expect her to be so utterly relatable. After all, she actually had a career that involved writing as her main occupation, and she had children, and I hadn’t realized that I totally have depression when I first read this. I have not been able to get near the level of writing career I want (not unlike most writers), and I also have yet to become addicted to barbiturates. I am pretty into Lemonheads though. Not making light of addiction, just relating to the fact that Shirley Jackson was also heavily into candy. So, for me, this was essential reading because it’s yet another example of how I’m not entirely delusional about who I’ve always thought I am and how hard I keep trying to do the work that means something to me. Some people aren’t easy and don’t have it easy, it’s a thing; it’s not just me – or you, or anyone who doesn’t give up just because someone else wants them to be nicer.

Apparently there’s a newer Shirley Jackson biography. Swell. We’ll see if I still find myself in that one, it supposedly has a lot of information gleaned from previously unpublished sources and maybe won’t be quite as novely as Private Demons. I hope I do.

Murderface and Pickles. Ladies of ritual and discerning taste I also admire.

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If smiling is contagious, then we shall frown

5. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is very skilled when it comes to writing unlikeable narrators. I’ve read the three novels she’s put out so far and I honestly did not like any of the narrators. I didn’t enjoy things they had to say or appreciate their actions and I came away from all three novels thinking I didn’t like the books entirely because of the unpleasant reading experience. Having read all three two years ago, and having enjoyed the film version of Gone Girl more so than the book (which I guess I’ll discuss whenever I get around to reviewing it…), I feel differently about Gillian Flynn’s work now. I think that she’s done something that’s important and maybe it should have been clearer to me while I was reading – but I was, like, paying attention to the story. At least, in the case of Dark Places, I think she succeeded in doing something important and successful with an unlikeable narrator – adding another woman to the pile of unlikeable narrators. If you can think of a whole pile of unlikeable, truly unlikeable the whole way through – not just a later-redeemed shrew character, women narrators throughout the literary canon then good for you; I can’t, and as a person who fully embraces the idea of being “gratuitously difficult” (hat tip Shirley Jackson) and has done some reading and reader’s advisory, I wish I could.

On some level I wish I could ignore more easily, social conditioning tells me that when a woman is unlikeable, I should write her off, perhaps as, in the case of Dark Places, damaged goods…clearly she cannot be functional or successful in any way, because she isn’t “nice” or “accommodating.” When a male character is unlikeable, he’s supposed to be translated as a bit of a rascal or someone who “gets things done” and doesn’t have time for pleasantries – which is bullshit. Both genders are capable of pleasantries and being accommodating and also being absolutely terrible or functional. I think that it’s very important to continue to add understanding and thorough consideration to our culture’s concept of women and becoming more and more familiar with women who are not in any way likeable is an excellent contribution to have for Gillian Flynn (especially since her books have sold so well).

I found Libby Day to be a sad, bitter character who responded to the terrifying events of her youth in a sad, bitter way. She had a false ambivalence that she used as a barrier and she made no apologies for how she chose to deal with her situation. I in no way would expect anything different of her, and yet, still don’t like her and I had very little sympathy for her. She made her choices and some of them were creepy- although as a fan of pop culture and some darker materials I could also understand why she would both loathe and need the groups who analyzed every minute detail of the crime and asked her to come and speak at their basement-conventions. Everything that wasn’t from her perspective made me want to continue reading and get through the story to find out who was ultimately responsible and what really happened surrounding the murder of her family.

Danger, slightly grumpy before his true little-old-pig grumpiness set in. I have EOG (Early Onset Grumpiness), he may have caught it from me.

Danger, slightly grumpy before his true little-old-pig grumpiness set in. I have EOG (Early Onset Grumpiness), he may have caught it from me.

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At night the ice weasels come.

7. When Midnight Comes… – Carol Beach York

I almost feel sorry for this book. I shouldn’t, it’s still more traditionally published and popular than my own work; the story just never went anywhere or did anything. It’s never been in love or on the tundra. It never had its fortune told. This book is a virgin that can’t drive. This book is stuck in a rut, a very short, vague rut, like Wilma, who should have been the main character.

Wilma, like many bedraggled, poor girls forced to visit their rich, pristine family members before her, is not happy. She dropped out of school. She dresses poorly – because she is poor – so clearly that reflects her mental state. Smart people always look super put together. At all times. That’s always been my experience and I’ve never noticed any other trends amongst the intelligentsia. Anyway, Wilma is dull and horrible and boring according to her aunt and her cousin Joan, and obviously to blame for the general sense of unease spreading throughout the Bridgeport’s home. Anyway, the cow that is Wilma is making little Charles ill, Mrs. Bridgeport an insomniac, Joan an anxious, slightly less bright social star, and she’s re-awakened little Emily’s fear of the dark. Or has she? If she had, this book would have been awesome, or, a lot more like Ghoulies. Possibly Carrie. I continuously thought that Wilma was meant to look like the book version of Carrie, I could tell that these characters were thinking “bovine” even if they didn’t say it. They’d never say it because they’re too busy hating her and wishing her away just because she’s not like them. Mrs. Bridgeport made her a shirt! And a dress! And Joan invited her friends over to meet her and then made no effort to include her in the giggling! They’ve done so much just by letting such a beast enter their home and infect it with her inability to be perfect and smart. It’s driven Mrs. Bridgeport to pills. Lots of pills. Well, not too many, she doesn’t want to go too far with sleeping. Also, there’s a grandfather clock that isn’t supposed to work stuck in the house and it does work – at night, sometimes.

The book is a like a field of missed opportunity. The privileged bitterness mounts and then they send Wilma away…and…nothing changes. Then the housekeeper leaves because her fortune teller friend says that the house is totally full of evil spirits and everyone should leave it. And then, scandal, Mrs. Bridgeport sees “SOON” written on the wall in red wax – but she can’t blame Wilma anymore – and, apparently they move. The next scene is one of those “now new people are moving in and charmed by this evil house they don’t know is totally evil” scenes. “Why did the previous family leave?” Well, I think they were needed at Stuffy Rich People Magazine to clutch their pearls and look down on those depraved poors. And, oh look, I’ve summarized the whole thing. Book report.

I seriously wish Wilma had been responsible for the evil spirits. I know that my sympathies were supposed to fall with the poor, put-upon Bridgeports since they took her in for a small vacation and then had a bad time, but it was impossible for me to care about nearly anyone in the family. I also think it was a total dick move on the part of the author to be so ridiculously superficial in every aspect of the story. Mount some dread, lady. Mount some dread.

“’SOON’? It’s no, ‘Welcome Home, Eleanor.’ That’s for sure.”

“’SOON’? It’s no, ‘Welcome Home, Eleanor.’ That’s for sure.”

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Scorched cinnamon.

22. Dark Harvest – Norman Partridge

Carrie for the Pumpkinhead set. It’s not an epistolary work and it’s taking elements from The Long Walk and “The Lottery” as well (of course, Carrie also had that incident with the rocks); but, for the most part the shifting perspectives, the matter of fact tone, the destruction of homes and businesses, and especially the “we’re ending this shit tonight” element of The October Boy’s journey through the town were very reminiscent of Carrie. If it had been just a bit longer or dwelled just a bit more on the reality of the town perhaps I would have felt more like the characters had some stakes they were up against though. So, the Guild doesn’t like people leaving town, huh? Why? Consequences and their evil motivations didn’t feel fully discussed to me. At least not to the point where I felt something original was happening.

When you use tropes from two Stephen King books and toss in some Shirley Jackson I want some depth because I’m being asked to treat this as an original story as opposed to an homage and it’s not a movie. The thing is, in a novel you have the space to establish stakes, establish why the reader should care, establish a person or persons for the reader to care about and for me this was light on all of those things and at 169 pages, I’m not surprised. I would have appreciated more. Maybe more people should have been allowed to speak out loud to each other, I can’t help but think that the lack of dialogue might be what’s not working for me. Basically though, this is the kind of book where I want to say “it was really cool” or “this part was awesome” because I do like a good pumpkinhead and I enjoy the ideas of ancient rites or creepy traditions in small towns and I really like reading about small-town America in time periods where help is not a cell-phone call away, but I didn’t take much from this besides immediately wanting to describe it as I did in my first fragment, “Carrie for the Pumpkinhead set.” So nice I said it twice.

Look, Ozymadias already won. He gets to leave the town. At one point I believe the town was facetiously referred to as “Corncob,” I am not sure what its real imaginary-town name is.

Look, Ozymandias already won. He gets to leave the town. At one point I believe the town was facetiously referred to as “Corncob,” I am not sure what its real imaginary-town name is.

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How does one properly anger the townspeople?

22. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

I knew before I read this book that I would love it, it was one of those things I had a feeling about when I read the title. As soon as I saw the name Merricat and heard that the story involved poisoning and living alone-ish and being pretty agoraphobic (for good reason, at first I thought maybe the townspeople weirdness was just in Merricat’s head because she is somewhat unreliable, but it so isn’t) I knew I’d found the book for me. Replace Jonas the cat, Merricat’s everyday companion, with the right guinea pigs and take out Constance and Uncle Julian and this book outlines one of my possible futures. I just need a house surrounded by nothing and a root cellar…and to delve deeper into the ritualistic, suspicious parts of my brain. It’s doable. Pass the sugar.

 

Thanksgiving is a time for stepping all over the harvest symbols. Yay, Taddy!

 

Harvest-related holidays are also a time for suspicion, Ozy knows Danger Crumples is up to something.

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Hill House, not sane…

36. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Prior to reading Hill House I’d only read a couple of Shirley Jackson’s short stories and so I was aware that she was a stellar writer in terms of mood. The main thing that presented itself to me while reading Hill House was how awesome she is at creating multiple types of fully realized characters and using the right one (no matter how mildly irritating their viewpoint might be) to tell the story. I could easily picture Eleanor and Theo and to be honest reading the banter the characters shared while sitting in the labyrinth of Hill House reminded me of how disconnected people are in the now time. I mean, really, is it too much to put down a phone for two hours? To not stare at your phone while say, walking up a steep flight of stairs or wandering into a crowded area? And if someone who is constantly staring at their phone wanders into a crowded area I don’t think it’s too much for me to wish that they trip over the outer ledge of a fountain and fall in, thus drowning their phone and forcing them to engage with the world around them…

Anyway, Theo’s banter abilities made Eleanor wish she could participate more fully in the group and in the world that she’d missed out on so far….this of course drove her insane and she made some very bad, very delusional decisions…but still, being witty used to be one of the highest compliments, now the world is a sadly monotone place in many respects and very few people value conversational communication that sparks the imagination in person. I prefer it that way. But of course I’ve never been too fond of connecting with people. There are just so many lawns I wish people weren’t standing on.

 

As Pammy & Twiglet stare into their ghostly reflections they are certainly wondering why they haven’t seen the original movie version instead of the one where Owen Wilson’s head gets cut off for no reason…although Catherine Zeta Jones was totally the right Theo.

 

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