Book Reviews

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin | Book Review

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin | Book Review Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
Genres: Biography, Non-Fiction
Original Publication Date: 2016
Source: I purchased this book
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four-half-stars

Still known to millions primarily as the author of “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author of such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I am honoring Shirley Jackson’s 100th birthday by reviewing Ruth Franklin’s biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

Shirley Jackson’s Writing Is Quite Disturbing

Her work has been getting critical re-appraisals in the past few years. Stephen King is a huge fan of her work.

She was famous for writing about rather dark themes. She became famous after her short story “The Lottery” appeared in The New Yorker in 1948. It caused a literary sensation.

She went on to publish such dark novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Jackson did have a sense of humor and wrote light-hearted accounts of family life. This included the very successful Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

Her Marriage to Stanley Hyman

Franklin’s book also details her very complicated marriage to Stanley Hyman, an author, critic, and professor at Bennington College in Vermont.

They first met as students at Syracuse University, and they went on to have four children together, but the marriage had troubles.

They had a strong emotional attachment, but Hyman could be cruel by flaunting his infidelities. However, he also tremendously respected Jackson’s writing genius.

Her Health Struggles

Later in life, she struggled with agoraphobia and a dependency on prescription pills.

She was also morbidly obese and a heavy smoker. These contributed to her premature death of heart failure at age 48.

Final Analysis

The only issue I have a problem with is the lack of detail about Shirley’s pill addiction.

The agoraphobia is given some detail. You do feel that you get to know her and why she wrote the books that she did.

It does help to be very familiar with her books when you read this biography. Each of her major works is discussed in detail.  For the most part, it is an excellent biography.

For more about her:

Shirley Jackson centenary: a quiet, hidden rage

The Great American Housewife Writer: A Shirley Jackson Primer

A User’s Guide to Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson and the Female Gothic

Shirley Jackson in Love & Death

You can also read my review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956.

Thank you for reading The Literary Lioness!

About Ruth Franklin

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic.

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I love books, writing, film, and television.

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