On Shirley Jackson
In honor of the new collection of Shirley Jackson’s previously unpublished works—titled Garlic in Fiction and coming from Random House in 2015—here are some compelling tidbits about this unique storyteller, as well as links to many of her stories available online.
- A varying number of cats, often black, resided with the Jackson family, contributing to the writer’s macabre allure. She once told her daughter, Sadie, “The cat told me what you did in school today.”
- Also according to Sadie, the Jacksons would educate their children at the dinner table, choosing a few topics for the year and reading relevant texts while the family ate. Similarly, her son Laurence Jackson Hyman recounts that jokes were a staple in the household and each family member had to tell one at meals.
- The prevalence of magic and strange happenings in her stories very much influenced views of Jackson during her lifetime—and perhaps obscured the true value of her skills. In 1949, a reporter rather famously remarked, “Miss Jackson writes not with a pen but with a broomstick.”
- Jackson’s last journal entry, six months before her death, concludes:
"I am the captain of my fate I am the captain of my fate I am the captain of my fate. Laughter is possible laughter is possible laughter is possible."
- As a prank, Jackson once hid all the local library’s movie reference books in her closet so she could convince her husband (literary critic Stanley Hyman) that his favorite old movie, Freaks, did not exist.
- A cartoon Jackson drew, illustrating her imaginings of Hyman’s time at The New Yorker offices:
- The Union of South Africa banned Jackson’s most well-known story “The Lottery,” a fact that made her quite proud. According to Hyman, “she felt that they at least understood the story.”
- Jackson, some time before her death of heart failure, requested that no funeral or memorial take place in her honor, an action fitting with her staunch avoidance of becoming a public figure. Jackson also rarely gave interviews and felt no need to promote or explain her work.
- And on one of the occasions that she did speak about her work—she was very willing to lecture on craft at schools and conferences—Jackson said:
"I tell myself stories all day long. I have managed to weave a fairy-tale of infinite complexity around the inanimate objects in my house, so much so that no one in my family is surprised to find me putting the waffle iron away on a different shelf because in my story it has quarreled with the toaster….It looks kind of crazy, of course. But it does take the edge off cold reality. And sometimes it turns into real stories."
And thirteen stories, from 1943 to 2013, are available to to subscribers of The New Yorker here
The best moment of Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice:
There was a moment of danger in July 1944, when four Gestapo men broke into [Gertrude Stein’s Paris] apartment and threatened to cut up and burn the Picassos…. A resourceful neighbor called the French police, who were able to dispatch the Gestapo men by asking them for requisition orders that they did not have. (When the police arrived, the Gestapo men were in Stein’s bedroom trying on her Chinese coats.)
There was a time when there was then.
When there was a watermelon
pink and pointy
as the sun and it was all
grapefruit and watermelon here.
In the woods.
Like I am. In the sea.
Regardless. It should be shared
that no grapefruit watermelon
can be before or could come.
That is, the pink sun. It is this grapefruit and melon.
Like a boy about to come. In France. On repeat.
Repeating, you wonder.
There is a prince who strokes the prism wondering also. And that
radiates. Grapefruit-like. Radiates a clean circle
of sea water and natural juices, piano keys, days of the week.
A pink number inside.
I am a boy in the woods. That Cadillac dropped off a dead person.
Head crushed like a watermelon. Pink and dreamy. I like
to stroke his head like a rose quartz and watch
for the stars that are telling me about the warm sun
to be found under the black birches. The bantams.
You wonder. There is a car in the woods. I load it
with quince and dead bodies. That is a job.
there is also persimmon and the birches put out.
Sluts, they give off invisible, metaphysical blossoms
that remind me, delicate as I am, of origami.
Tongue is like a silk worm.
Once I had sex with a blond boy. Oh.
In Japan. The grapefruity sound.
We made persimmon jelly.
The Cadillac is back again. The grill
is like a fist full of razors or like teeth
or a fistful of cherries or like dragonflies mating in lines.
I eat strawberries like I have a big car.
over the pond where there is an enormous pink
star underneath with pond people inside it
and in its orbits, the lilypad silk ties with their hair
and they sing with crystal voices and fish gills
the story of their victims in the heavy piano lounge
that they live in.