cover image Just an Ordinary Day

Just an Ordinary Day

Shirley Jackson. Bantam Books, $23.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10303-8

From the hilarious first story in this treat of a collection, in which a college girl tricks the devil (horns, hoofs and all) into selling her his soul, we know we are in Jackson territory-the Jackson of the classic short story ""The Lottery'' and the novel The Haunting of Hill House. For Jackson devotees, as well as first-time readers, this is a feast: more than half of the 54 short stories collected here have never been published before. The circumstances that inspired the volume are appropriately bizarre. According to Jackson's children, ""a carton of cobwebbed files discovered in a Vermont barn"" arrived in the mail one day without notice; along with the original manuscript of her novel, the box contained six unpublished stories. Other pieces, culled from family collections, and from archives and papers at the San Francisco Public Library and the Library of Congress, appeared in print only once, in various magazines. The stories are diverse: there are tales that pillory smug, self-satisfied, small-town ladies; chilling and murderous chronicles of marriage; witty romantic comedies; and tales that reveal an eerie juxtaposition of good and evil. The devil, who can't seem to get an even break, makes several appearances. Each of Jackson's ghost stories-often centered around a child, missing or dead-is beautifully anchored in and thoroughly shaped by a particular point of view. A few pieces that qualify as humorous takes on the predicaments of modern life add a relaxed, biographical element to a virtuoso collection. (Dec.) FYI: Jackson, who died in 1965 at age 48, is poised for a literary revival: the BBC is releasing a biography in the fall, and a new film version of The Haunting of Hill House is currently in production.