Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Lifeis a biography of Shirley Jackson (1916–1965), a genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, whom readers probably know as the author of the "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House. Based on years of archival research and dozens of interviews, it tells the story of Jackson’s life and her creative process, placing her within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe. Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. This biography gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman).
What is it about Shirley Jackson that makes her so impactful to the gothic horror genre?
As the author of The Haunting of Hill House, one of the classic ghost stories, Shirley Jackson is thought of by many as a “mother of horror.” Her spare writing style and her emphasis on the psychological roots of fear are part of what has given her writing so much staying power.
Which recent books do you think have been influenced by Shirley Jackson?
Kelly Link’s collectionGet in Troubleis explicitly influenced by Jackson – one of the stories, “The Summer People,” actually shares a title with one of Jackson’s. Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates, and Carmen Maria Machado have all mentioned her as someone who was important to them.
Would you classify Shirley Jackson as part of the ‘domestic noir’ genre as well as horror?
Possibly. It was a genre she loved – she said she always wanted to write a murder mystery. But the only time she came close to it was with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her last published novel, which is indeed about a murder but isn’t quite a mystery. To be honest, it’s hard to put Jackson in genre categories at all, because her work is so strange and sui generis.
Do you think it was more difficult for Shirley Jackson to make a name for herself in her time of writing because she was a woman?
Definitely. I also believe that Jackson’s work was undervalued by the critics of her time – almost all of whom were men – because of her focus on female protagonists and the problems facing women.
Can you recommend a handful of Shirley Jackson books for Lounge Books readers?