(Sunday [London] Times) Unpublished writing from unsung Gothic great Shirley Jackson

Jackson was an artist of unease. She wrote about identity, madness and the horror of ordinary life, in crisp, adroit prose. Her fiction recalls such various talents as Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Daphne du Maurier, Roald Dahl and Jorge Luis Borges ”” which is a way of saying that she was a true original. Her best work has “the plausibility of myth”, as The New York Times put it. Rather surprisingly, for readers who came to her through human sacrifice, the occult etc, she also wrote two apparently charming memoirs which ”” I quote from the preface of the new book ”” “artfully chronicled the joys and difficulties of bringing up four garrulous, rambunctious children”.

After attending Syracuse University, Jackson married the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman and settled in North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman taught at a liberal arts college. According to one autobiographical piece printed here, she wrote when she wasn’t “vacuuming the living-room rug or driving the children to school or trying to find something different to serve for dinner tonight”.

Let Me Tell You is one of several articles of Jacksoniana ”” including a new biography ”” that will be brought out this year, the 50th anniversary of her early death. It supplements the two main collections of her shorter work: The Lottery and Other Stories, and Come Along with Me, which was edited by Hyman. The book is an anthology of previously uncollected and unpublished pieces found among her papers. It represents not just the scraping of the barrel, but the second scraping of the barrel (after Just an Ordinary Day, published in 2009).

The surprise is not that it contains iffy and substandard pieces, which it does, but that several of the stories are so striking.

Read it all (requires subscription).


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