cover image Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Ruth Franklin. Norton/Liveright, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-87140-313-1

Literary critic Franklin (A Thousand Darknesses) renders a gripping and graceful portrait of the mind, life, and work of groundbreaking American author Shirley Jackson (1916–1965). Though Jackson is today largely known for the chilling novel The Haunting of Hill House and the supremely upsetting short parable “The Lottery,” Franklin brings forth her full oeuvre for careful study, including a prodigious number of short stories, books for young adults and children, and—perhaps improbably for a horror writer—two bestselling memoirs about life with her four children, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. Franklin’s adept readings of Jackson’s influences, formative relationships, and major works interweave the obsessions, fears, and life experiences that charge her writing with such wicked intensity. Treating her subject with a generous eye and gorgeous prose, Franklin describes one of Jackson’s chief themes, a “preoccupation with the roles that women play at home and the forces that conspire to keep them there,” as a product of her cultural moment, identifying Jackson’s “insistence on telling unpleasant truths” about women’s experience and her ability “to draw back the curtain on the darkness within the human psyche” as the elements that make Jackson a writer of lasting relevance who can still give today’s readers an impressive shiver. 60 illus. (Sept.)