Friday, January 03, 2020
PRIVATE DEMONS, THE LIFE OF SHIRLEY JACKSON, Judy Oppenheimer
I read this book in December, 1987, being a big fan of Shirley Jackson all my life. I once had a nice fat collection of Jackson's work, which was damaged by ice that broke through our ceiling, soaking everything beneath. I have never replaced most of it unfortunately. But I think I've probably read most of the collected pieces of fiction she wrote and all of the novels, enjoying the domestic stories as much as the very dark ones. Her bifurcated writing interests seem like two sides of a very familiar coin.
This book, and there may be a newer one by now, tries and succeeds in explaining much about Jackson's life. Raised by an abusive mother, married to a man (esteemed literary critic, Stanley Hyman) who recognized her brilliance but didn't let that interfere with his affairs, Jackson managed to write some of the most original stories of her era. She feared anonymity after death; feared the public would not understand the meaning of her stories. Jackson's accounts of family life (RAISING DEMONS, LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES) are as much fun to read as her darker novels and stories. Oppenheimer is very skilled at tying incidents in Jackson's life to stories she wrote at the time. She uses interviews and anecdotes to great effect. If you want to understand where stories like THE LOTTERY came from, this book will help.
A movie about Shirley Jackson is scheduled for release in 2020.