This time of year (Halloween time, specifically) always puts me in the mood to read Shirley Jackson. Jackson was one of the best American writers of the 20th century. I find the perfect way to read her somewhat frightening work is to curl up in bed on a cold autumn night, huddled under a pile of blankets, next to my cat. Like this piece from New Yorker Zoe Heller He points out that Jackson was not always seen as a prominent literary figure, and until recently was often dismissed as complex, grotesque, and kind of one-note. Heller discusses the 2016 biography of Jackson Haunted life rather by Ruth Franklin, who argues that Jackson’s work is literary and serious. In the years since the book was published, we’ve already seen Jackson’s work return to the spotlight, including a Netflix adaptation of Chase Hill Houseas well as Hulu .’s biographical drama Shirleystarring Elisabeth Moss, both of whom I found rather captivating.
Here’s how you shouldn’t be taken too seriously as a writer: Use demons, ghosts, and other gothic paraphernalia in your imagination. Publicly describe yourself as an “amateur witch” and brag about the hexes you’ve placed on prominent publishers. Contribute comedy articles to women’s magazines about your busy life as a housewife and mother.
Shirley Jackson did all of these things, and during her life, she was largely dismissed as a talented purveyor of high-pitched horror stories — “Virginia Weirwolf,” one critic put it. That reputation has stuck around for most of the 51 years since her death. Today, “The Lottery,” her story of human sacrifice rituals in a New England village (first published in this magazine, in 1948), has become a staple on eighth-grade reading lists, and her novel “The Haunting of Hill House” (1959) often It is mentioned as one of the best ghost stories of all time. But most of her core work—including her masterpiece, the grotesquely beautiful novel We Always Lived in the Castle (1962)—has not been widely read. In recent years, there have been signs of a renewed interest in Jackson’s work. Many writers, including Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, and A.M. Homes, have praised her remarkable talent, and new editions of her work have appeared. But reactions to these attempts to recover Jackson were mixed. In 2010, when Library of America published a copy of Jackson’s Selected Works, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, a critic protested in Newsweek that it was an exercise in barrel shoveling: “Shirley Jackson? A famous writer mostly with one short story, ‘The Lottery.'” LOA is about to jump on the shark?”
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