Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography Winner of the Edgar Award in Critical/Biographical Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction A New York Times Notable Book of 2016 A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Pick of 2016 An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016 A Time Magazine Top Nonfiction of 2016 A Seattle Times Best Book of 2016 A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2016 An NPR 2016's Great Read A Boston Globe Best Book of 2016 A Nylon Best Book of 2016 A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2016 A Booklist 2016 Editors' Choice In this “thoughtful and persuasive” biography, award-winning biographer Ruth Franklin establishes Shirley Jackson as a “serious and accomplished literary artist” (Charles McGrath, New York Times Book Review).Instantly heralded for its “masterful” and “thrilling” portrayal (Boston Globe), Shirley Jackson reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the literary genius behind such classics as “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House. In this “remarkable act of reclamation” (Neil Gaiman), Ruth Franklin envisions Jackson as “belonging to the great tradition of Hawthorne, Poe and James” (New York Times Book Review) and demonstrates how her unique contribution to the canon “so uncannily channeled women’s nightmares and contradictions that it is ‘nothing less than the secret history of American women of her era’ ” (Washington Post). Franklin investigates the “interplay between the life, the work, and the times with real skill and insight, making this fine book a real contribution not only to biography, but to mid-20th-century women’s history” (Chicago Tribune). “Wisely rescu[ing] Shirley Jackson from any semblance of obscurity” (Lena Dunham), Franklin’s invigorating portrait stands as the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary genius.
Ruth Franklinis a book critic and frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Harper’s, and many other publications. A recipient of a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
Note On Quotations xv
Introduction: A Secret History 1
1 Foundations: California, 1916-1933 11
2 The Demon in the Mind: Rochester, 1933-1937 43
3 Intentions Charged With Power: Brooklyn, 7919-1937 70
4 S & S: Syracuse, 1937-1940 90
5 The Mad Bohemians: New York, New Hampshire, Syracuse, 1940-1942 128
6 Garlic in Fiction: New York, 1942-1945 158
7 Sidestreet, U.S.A.: Bennington, The Road Through the Wall, 1945-1948 190
8 A Classic in Some Category: "The Lottery," 1948 221
9 Notes From a Modern Book of Witchcraft: The Lottery: or, The Adventures of James Harris, .1948-1949 248
10 The Lovely House: Westport, Hangsaman, 1950-1951 271
11 Cabbages and Savages: Bennington, Life Among the Savages, 1951-1953 304
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life 3.5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I found Franklin's writing pedestrian and text-booky but the worst of it, for me, was that Franklin didn't seem all that well acquainted with Jackson's stories -- at least, no better acquainted than you could get by second- or third-hand information.
This resulted in a double irony: in one place she sneered at biographers who get details wrong, and in another she sneered at Stanley Hyman's (Jackson's husband) habit of reading everything written by someone he was going to write about, implying such intensive research was unnecessary.
However, if Franklin had bothered to read everything Jackson wrote, she wouldn't have gotten the plots of two short stories completely backwards (one of them a Mallie story, which really chaffed my chaps -- those are my favorites) or failed to know which character called the cold spot in front of the nursery "The heart of the house" in The Haunting of Hill House (it was Dr. Montague). That sort of sloppiness was hard to bear, since my main interest was in reading about Jackson's work.
I can't recommend this book, unless your main interest is in all the grimy little details of Jackson's life -- the writing is still tedious, but it does deliver on those.
More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written biography about Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman. Franklin gives just enough background on the families so that the reader has a full history of the families and what how that affects Jackson and Hyman. Unlike some biographies that give too much background information about the families Franklin gives just enough.
As I read Franklin's examination of The Lottery collection of stories I wanted to pull my copy off the shelf and reread it. Until I read that section I didn't realize that the stories were interconnected.
If you're interested in 20th Century American writers this is a book you should put at the top of of your TBR pile. If you've read anything written by Shirley Jackson this is a book you should read to get a better understanding of her and her work.
Simply a brilliant book.
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