Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 18, 2016

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. -This is an amazing novel on my second reading, decades after my first. Its characters are few, they are pretty much nailed to one spot, and not much action takes places. Its high quality depends on Jackson's ability to create characters that speak and act like real people despite being essentially ghosts. You can easily see the mind that created both THE LOTTERY and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in this novel. It was her last novel, written in 1962, three years after HILL HOUSE.

The Blackwood family lost four of its members six years earlier. Since then Mary Katherine, a teenager, her older sister Charlotte and the elderly and ill Uncle Julian haven't strayed farther than the country store. Uncle Julian lives completely in the past, reliving a specific day in time. Charlotte spends her time cooking, canning and hiding. And Mary Katherine (Merricat) dreams and devises spells to protect them. The townspeople thinkCharlotte got away with murder and Merricat's trips into town incite their rage and amusement at the Blackwood's fate. When Cousin Charles comes to stay with them, he sets events into motion that send the family even farther into isolation. He is a villain you can really hate.

The writing in this novel is sublime. Jackson creates a world that is both seductive and frightening. I read this as a teenager but I think it takes an adult to appreciate what strong characters Jackson created.
Jackson died at age 48. What a loss. I can only imagine the novels she might have written if she had lived longer.

Todd Mason will collect the links next Friday. 

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek, THE HAND IN THE GLOVE, Rex Stout
Joe Barone, THE DEAD HOUSE, Harry Bingham
Elgin Bleecker, SO THIS IS MURDER, Erle Stanley Gardner
Les Blatt, THE FLEMISH HOUSE, Georges Simenon
Brian Busby, HICKORY HOUSE,Kenneth Orvis
Bill Crider, HARD-BOILED, ed. Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian
Martin Edwards, MURDER BY MATCHLIGHT, E.C.R. Lorac
Richard Horton, SUNSMASHER, Edmund Hamilton, STARHAVEN, Robert Silverberg
Jerry House, THE SHIP THAT NEVER WAS, Mickey Spillane
Margot Kinberg, THE EYES OF JADE, Diane Wei Laing
Rob Kitchin, THE AGE OF WONDER, Richard Holmes
K.A. Laity, PORTERHOUSE BLUE, Tom Sharpe
Steve Lewis, ROUGH CUT, Ed Gorman
J.F. Norris, A COUNTRY KIND OF DEATH, Mary McMullen
Matt Paust, MAGGIE, GIRL OF THE STREETS, Stephen Crane
James Reasoner, KI-GOR AND THE GIANT GORILLA MAN, John Peter Drummon
Richard Robinson, The first two DREAM PARK NOVELS, Larry Niven, Steven Barnes
Gerard Saylor, MOSTLY WHILE PAINTING, Mickey Cohen 
Kevin Tipple, THE JANUS STONE, Elly Griffiths
TomCat, THE CARDINAL MOTH, Fred M. White
TracyK, THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY, John D. Macdonald
Westlake Review, THE AX


Anonymous said...

So glad to see you do We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Patti. It's a classic, in my opinion, that doesn't always get the press it might. Thanks, too, for including my post.

K. A. Laity said...

I'm so glad that Jackson FINALLY seems to be getting the acclaim she deserves as one of the finest writers this country has ever produced. I want to get the new bio on her (and the one on Carter) and read it over the winter break. CASTLE is so magnificent. I sometimes think it's her best and then I re-read HILL HOUSE and I think it is, until I re-read CASTLE...and back and forth. Best is irrelevant. All her books are wonderful.

And an actual FFB from me:

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Patti, perhaps its time you reveiwed "The Haunting" (1963) Robert Wise`s quite superb adaptation of the Hill House novel with a non-singing non-dancing Russ Tamblyn.

Mathew Paust said...

I've been woefully neglectful of Shirley Jackson. Thanks for the spur!

TracyK said...

We have Always Lived in the Castle is on my list to read. Thanks for the encouragement.

Todd Mason said...

I certainly should re-read it as well. And THE BIRD'S NEST.

Chris said...

I've read pretty nearly all of Jackson. She was of course a great short story writer, and anticipated both Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck in writing humorously about the challenges of home life in two nonfiction books (which discreetly step around some of the deeper pains of her home life, such as her college professor husband's many affairs with students).

But to me, her six novels (of which I've read five, starting with Hangsaman, an eerie and ambiguously supernatural Bildungsroman about a young woman at college) are her crowning achievement. She was too far ahead of her time to be fully appreciated in her own lifetime, but her influence is everywhere, I think. She is impossible to pigeonhole, but if you want to call her a genre writer, you have to say there was never a finer one.

I too wish there was more of her to read. It wasn't just her short life, but her very busy and often downright harassed one as a wife and mother, in an era when the husband was not expected to share any of the burdens of homemaking, even when his wife's career was (in this case) bringing in quite a lot more money. But you could argue that the very pain and tumult and conflict of her life--and the things she learned from it--are part of what makes her work so special. Every word she wrote came from the depths of her heart, filtered through a first-rate intellect, that never had an ivory tower to hide in--that did daily combat with the challenges of being a woman in a man's world. That is beyond rare.

And to read her books is to marvel that she lived as long as she did. Something was--waiting for her. Calling to her. There's no other way to put it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am not sure who wrote the above comment but it is exactly my feelings. I have the new bio on hold. Although the books about raising her demons and savages were fun, I feel like they were a waste of time when she could have been writing the genre at which she excelled: horror. She felt that horror from her very soul.

Chris said...

It's just little old me, Fred Fitch, of The Westlake Review. Sometimes I go by Chris. Like when I'm posting responses to blogger. ;)

pattinase (abbott) said...

So happy to finally meet someone who shares my love for SJ.

Chris said...

I'm sorry to hear you've had to wait so long, but not surprised--she's still a bit of a cult writer, in spite of increased mainstream appreciation. Don't suppose you share my appreciation for James Tiptree Jr., aka Alice Sheldon? Equally tragic, equally powerful--not quite as polished a writer, and she mainly wrote science fiction which comes with its own set of opportunities and limitations. But she put her own spin on everything she wrote (while pretending to be a man, a story in itself), and I do hope she and Shirley have had a chance to talk out there. I don't know about you, but I love to imagine all my favorite dead writers (and that's nearly all my favorite writers) having a drink somewhere, chewing fat, trading truths.

The only writers worth reading are the ones who give you all of themselves in their work. You open their books, and they tell you who they are. And then who you are.

Todd Mason said...

Um, Patti? You've met a number of people who love Shirley Jackson's work. Kate and I, for example.

Not to drop names, but the other day Alan Brennert commented on my Wilma Shore post, noting that she was in the same class as Jackson, which is very fair...I d suggest Carol Emshwiller is, too. IAlice Sheldon as well, even though Sheldon's depression could get the best of her fiction as well...and she certainly didn't bank her anger, justified as it usually was). Barry Malzberg noted how much Jackson and Shore were alike, in Jackson's best work, like yourself noting how he felt LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES was Jackson pitching easy, but he suspected that the kind of (my example rather than his) CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN candy-coating of the domestic comedy helped her get by, considering all that was working against her as also noted by you and Fred above...

Todd Mason said...

Kerr and Bombeck, if glibly )particularly the latter), definitely were writing in a more clear-eyed Coping mode.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yeah, I guess it's my real life friends who don't know who she is. I am always shocked when someone believes she only wrote THE LOTTERY.

Chris said...

Life Among the Savages has some lovely stuff in it--particularly the chapter about baseball. Kerr and Bombeck may be coping better, but that's partly because they've so much less depth and complexity (wonderful attributes for a writer, but they can be encumbrances in daily life, sorry to say). At any rate, we should be grateful there's any autobiographical material at all on her, and I don't think those books cost us any great novels--and they probably paid a lot of bills. I mean, Leo Tolstoy just stopped writing novels entirely, and became some kind of proto-hippie socialist philosopher, drove his poor wife bats, and nobody in the literary world gives him any grief about that. Jackson was being a good mother AND a good writer there, paying attention to her children, learning things from them. Seeing all the weird and lovely things about children that most parents block out, because they're unsettling, and most writers ignore, because children aren't important to them.

I'll keep an eye out for Shore and Emshwiller, but Jackson was in a class all by herself. We have to draw a line between how successful someone is as an artist, and how successful in life. It's possible to be equally successful at both, of course. But it's rare. Very rare. The closer you get to the sun, the faster your wings melt. Real song brings consequences. Amiri Baraka said it best. Real Song is a dangerous number.

Todd Mason said...

Day-to-day, face-to-face people...less intense focus on taste and interest matters!

Mathew Paust said...

This has been the most interesting comment thread I've ever had the pleasure of reading!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I should note here that my daughter shares my love of SJ. So I do know one real life fan.