Tuesday, April 03, 2018

A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson is best known for writing “The Lottery,” a short story published in The New Yorker in 1948. It would become one of the century's best-known short stories, while its author otherwise slipped into relative literary obscurity.

Ruth Franklin’s A Rather Haunted Life is a salutary corrective to her legacy, returning her to the canon of critically and commercially successful mid-century writers. She’s admired for her gothic, banal horror—Stephen King counts among her admirers—and forgotten for her best-selling humorous memoirs of parenting, which prefigured the likes of Erma Bombeck. Her dual career in horror and housekeeping contributed to her decline; she resisted easy pigeonholing.

I had only read “The Lottery,” and that back in high school. I’ve ordered her Modern Library collection from my local library to read what I missed. My own writing in smut and parenting leads me to admire her duality. Reading her life is inspiring and devastating, as she balances literary society with a home life of four children and a self-centered husband and the pressures of a domineering mother, along with depression, poor health and alcoholism.

If you haven’t read “The Lottery,” you can start by hearing her read it for Folkways in 1960, along with her story “Daemon Lover.” She was agoraphobic by this time, so her son made the recording at home.

Listen closely and you can hear the ice popping in her bourbon. 

Read the full text of “The Lottery.”

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