The Creative Genius of Shirley Jackson

11:48:00 AM


In middle school we were given a copy of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. At the time, none of us quite understood what it was we were actually reading. I suppose we all had the same look on our faces of horror and wonder. Who would have thought we would have been given something like that to read when we were used to the happy musings of Tuck Everlasting and Huckleberry Finn? Shortly after we were given some psychotic book called The Giver (not by Shirley Jackson but leaves you with the same feeling as The Lottery). At that time, the outlook on reading for me totally changed and was made into something other; reading wasn't boring anymore. I felt included in the secret.

Throughout my life I have looked to fiction to bring the same element of surprise that Shirley Jacksons stories did. No writer, though there are many wonderful novels and short stories out there, has ever seemed as skilled in subtleties as Shirley Jackson. I have tried to get through her novels whenever I have had the time over the past couple of years but I have yet to finish the lot of them. The ones that I have read all had that shocking moment of realization somewhere in the story that is unexpected and never seen beforehand.


Seasoned readers of Jackson, try their damnedest to see what's behind the curtain. But of course nothing in the world of Shirley Jackson's fiction is what is seems to be. The Haunting of Hill House was something I thought would be a great idea to read in the wee hours of the morning when I couldn't sleep. It scared the hell out of me, and at times I could swear that the noises in the novel were manifesting themselves in my own home. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was another story that was not so chilling as Hill House, but shocking in it's own right. I felt on edge the entire time, not being able to trust any one character because you're on an investigation to find out who done it.






The novels are an elongated version of the sweet nectar of her short stories. Some writers seem better at one form or another, but Jackson much like her collection editor Joyce Carol Oates is phenomenal within both mediums.


Having read The Summer People last night, I put the story down wondering what the hell happened next. I would have killed to be a fly on the wall of Jackson's mind. That story is creepy as all hell. Nothing is ever what it seems, remember that as you read along. For me, Shirley Jackson is my favorite writer and I will continue to try to capture the same elements in my own writing. Being on a banned books list isn't so bad if it means it scared the shit out of some people.

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