Saturday, October 10, 2009

A dark writer for dark times.

"Some lives...leave a grain of memory, like a grain of sand, in the depths of another mind, a grain of sand which is like the constant irritation under an oyster's shell, eventually to grow with coating after coating of disguising beauty into a pearl. Sometime this memory would be pried loose, in its rounded beauty, to stand by itself as an object of delight." from 'The Road Through the Wall' 1948.

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I would have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead." from 'We have always lived in the Castle'

I recently found a collection of three of the earliest works of Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite writers, at Camerons my favorite Portland Bookstore for lunch hour perusing. Small and packed with the familiar and the obscure. Almost all of my reading this year has been from books that I was not looking for but found on the shelves at Camerons. This included the Andy Warhol Diaries, a biography of Walker Evans and these three great tales from the dark mind of Shirley Jackson.
The first book "The Road Through the Wall" was a look at a small suburban community over a Summer that begins with the last day of school and ends with a tragic event that shatters several lives and brings to an end the era of the particular group of people who are the characters in the story a "community" of isolated families and individuals.
The second book "Hangsaman" was my favorite of the three. The story of a young girl leaving her extremely dysfunctional family to go to a womens college where she begins to mentally unravel. A very dark and chilling account of one persons descent in to madness. The dramatic ending which may be all a hallucination reminded me of 'Carnival of Souls'
The third book "Birds Nest" was very disappointing despite being about a character(s) with multiple personalities, or Disassociation Identity Disorder. It probably is the worst thing I ever read by Shirley Jackson which makes it still better then a lot of what passes as reading these days. The book was made in to a film which came out the same year as 'Three Faces of Eve".
An excellent review of Jacksons book 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' can be found here.
Written for the NY times book review by Joyce Carol Oates.



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