Book Recs: Shirley Jackson

I LOVE Shirley Jackson, and these are, in my opinion her best. BUT, her short stories are…phenomenal.  I wouldn’t necessarily classify these books as horror, although that’s definitely part of it, especially with Hill House. What makes these books so creepy is their psychological aspects. I was introduced to Shirley in college when I was assigned to read her short story  The Lottery. It really struck a chord with me, and I immediately set out to read everything she’d written.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle: Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

The Haunting of Hill House: First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

 

13388[1]Shirley Jackson was an influential American author. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.

She is best known for her dystopian short story, “The Lottery” (1948), which suggests there is a deeply unsettling underside to bucolic, smalltown America. In her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that “no New Yorker story had ever received.” Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, “bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse.

 

 

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Book Rec Friday – Flannery O’Connor

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The first time I read Flannery O’Connor I was a freshman in college, and we were assigned to read her short story “Good Country People.” I read it four times in a row. And then I immediately purchased this collection of her short stories and devoured them all. Lucky for me, summer vacation was just around the corner, so I could devote my full attention to Flannery.

How do I describe the work of Flannery O’Connor? Southern gothic, southern grotesque, southern. To me, Flannery is THE southern author. Sorry, Faulkner, but you’re just too convulted for the masses. Anyway, Flannery has the grotesque southern touch. For those of you who don’t know exactly what “southern grotesque” or “southern gothic” is, let me give you a quick overview.

And by quick overview, I mean here are some links for you peruse if you are so inclined:

http://www.openculture.com/2013/04/listen_as_flannery_oconnor_reads_some_aspects_of_the_grotesque_in_southern_fiction_c_1960.html

http://www.plymouth.k12.wi.us/OldSite/Staff%20Home%20Pages/High%20School/HS%20English/Cleary1/American%20Literature/Southern%20Gothic%20Literature.pdf

http://www.goodreads.com/genres/southern-grotesque

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Gothic

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Flannery again. It’s rare that a writer can so seamlessly and effortlessly combine humor with elements of despair, violence, religion, and decay. Something terrible is happening, and it makes you LAUGH OUT LOUD, because that’s how good Flannery is. My words don’t do her work justice, so let me provide you with some quotes from her and her stories to entice you.

But first, I highly recommend reading about Flannery and her life. It’s easy to see where she got her inspiration.

English: Portrait of American writer Flannery-...

English: Portrait of American writer Flannery-O’Connor from 1947. Picture is cropped and edited from bigger picture: Robie with Flannery 1947.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And Flannery said is best herself, “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

“She would of been a good woman,” said The Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
― Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find 

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

“All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”

“There are all kinds of truth … but behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

“Everywhere I go, I am asked if I think university stifles writers. My opinion is that it doesn’t stifle enough of them.”

“Her name was Maude and she drank whisky all day from a fruit jar under the counter.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“Everything that gave her pleasure was small and depressed him.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Everything That Rises Must Converge

Okay, I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop here and leave the rest to you.

Book Rec Friday – Phantom by Susan Kay

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I’m going way back with this one. I first read it when I was 12 or 13, and have since read it many times, although it’s been a while. First of all, I’ve been in love with Erik, AKA The Phantom of the Opera for….forever. And this book takes his life and story to a whole new level. It’s rare that a book that’s based on another work is actually worth something. But this one….breathtaking. It does romanticize the story, but I loved that. To me, Phantom of the Opera has always been a love story, but Susan Kay gives it life. She gives Erik’s story life. She takes us from his birth, troubled childhood, and tragic adulthood, all leading to

Cover of "Phantom"

Cover of Phantom

his meeting of Christine. Basically, it fills in what the original book left out in exquisite and heartbreaking detail.

You will fall in love him. You will. My review doesn’t do it justice.

Book Recommendation: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I know I said I was going to do these on Friday, but I didn’t last week, so luck you, you get a bonus.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4989.The_Red_Tent?ac=1

More akin to magical realism than a Biblical history, The Red Tent tells a story of womanhood, of what it’s like to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter during a time when it was better to be a son. Told in the voice of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah, this book tells the story of the four wives of Jacob and their purpose in life, each completely different, but beautiful in their own ways. The prose is magnificent and flows like a river. Tragedy, happiness, tradition, loss, sadness, suffering, hatred, love, everything is here, and the women feel it keenly. We feel everything through Dinah and it’s an unforgettable experience. This is a book for women, and as women we should read it, because it is our past too.