Shirley Jackson: Queen of the Macabre
October 17, 2012
It's Halloween time, and I sure hope you're reading a scary book (or two!). If you're not, might I suggest some Shirley Jackson? She is my favorite author you've never heard of. She has the perfect books for a past-midnight reading marathon, if you don't mind glancing over your shoulder every now and then.
Jackson was born in 1919 in San Francisco, California. By the time of her death in 1965, she was regarded as one of the horror genre's most evocative, atmospheric authors. Her trove of plays, poems, novels, short stories, essays, and articles still make readers gasp in fear and laugh out loud at her audacity. You can read more about her on our Books & Authors database, but allow me to recommend three of her best-known works for your witching-hour reading.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Two sisters and an elderly uncle--the only survivors of a freak arsenic-in-the-sugar-bowl accident that killed the rest of the Blackwood family--brood away their lives in a lonely house. The rest of the village fears and suspects them, but a visiting cousin has the power to unravel their tenuous grip on security. In 2002, Merricat Blackwood landed at #71 on Book magazine's list of the 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900 (the only Jackson character to make the list).
An idyllic town goes through their yearly ritual to bring a good harvest. Most are excited and a few are nervous, but everyone is prepared to make the necessary sacrifice. This short story sparked outrage upon its initial publication in 1948, but Jackson's intentions were valid. A month after the story's appearance, she explained: "I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives."
The Haunting of Hill House
Four people investigate the otherworldly occurences of ancient Hill House: Dr. Montague wants to study the manor's supernatural history, Theodora wants to have an adventure, Luke wants to know if his inheritance is worth the trouble, and Eleanor just wants a place to call home. Widely considered a masterpiece of the haunted house genre, this novel has been made into two movies: in 1963 with Julie Harris and Russ Tamblyn and in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Give one of these stories a try--you might be too scared to sleep but you won't be sorry.