Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories

Lidija Haas writes:

This is a recurring situation both in the novels and the stories: Jackson places a young person, usually a woman, in a seemingly ordinary setting which then becomes unstable. Sometimes normality is restored, sometimes it isn’t, but either way, something threatening or strange has been revealed hiding under the surface. In some of these stories the woman is miserable, suffocating in her everyday life, and meets the apparent disaster with exhilaration. Jackson is interested in impostors, in estrangement, in small, inexorable shifts of power. In ‘Louisa, Please Come Home’ (1960), a teenage runaway tries to return to her family and finds that they don’t recognise her; they believe she’s one of a series of frauds trying to take advantage of their grief. She goes back to her new life elsewhere, and every year she listens to her mother broadcasting an appeal on the radio: ‘Louisa … we need you and miss you so much. Your mother and father love you and will never forget you. Louisa, please come home.’ In ‘Like Mother Used to Make’ a man asks his neighbour over for dinner and finds himself steadily losing ground, giving in, as she invites another man to join them and accepts his compliments on the meal and the apartment as if they were hers. Eventually, the first man, embarrassed and excluded, is pushed out of his own home. The progression is smooth, as if quite natural. There is no jolt, no place to pause and say this is no longer believable. Stephen King considers Jackson one of the great horror writers because she ‘never had to raise her voice’.

(LRB 19 August 2010)