Hangsaman: a brief review

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

originally published in 1951

“Natalie laughed. ‘If I were inventing this world,’ she said, ‘–and I may have, at that–I would gauge my opponents more accurately. That is, suppose I wanted to destroy the people who saw it clearly, and refused to join up with all my dull ordinary folk, the ones who plod blindly along. What I would do is not set them against numbers of dull people, but I would invent for each one a single antagonist, who was calculated to be strong in exactly the right points.'”

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I found Hangsaman to be incredibly haunting and, at times, scary. The synopsis on the back of the book doesn’t really capture what the story is about. Natalie, who is 17, meets with her father to discuss her writing. Since he is an author, he gives he honest feedback with little concern for her feelings and great attention to her skills that he knows she possesses. He admits that she will experience things to which he will not relate. These is a sense of abandonment in his tone. He believes he and Natalie will naturally grow to hate each other. The mother is an ordinary mother, except when she drinks too much at a party she begins warning Natalie of problems with the domestic life. Natalie’s brother is a very normal boy.

Natalie is sent to an all-girls college that her father has selected for her. The school is relatively new, so the curriculum is unusual and changes over the years. The girls all live in large houses and have their own rooms. Natalie is the odd girl because she doesn’t like to talk with people and has unusual thoughts. For example, when someone knocks on Natalie’s door, she thinks about the fact that she is looking at the door, and on the other side of the door is someone who is also looking at the same door, in the same spot. They are only divided by a piece of wood that is a door. It’s strange thoughts like these that course through the novel and make the setting creepy.

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Oh yeah, and she imagines turning into a giant and killing everyone at school. And peeling the other students like apples. And neutering her professor’s wife–not an emotional neutering, either.

Highly recommended!

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14 thoughts on “Hangsaman: a brief review

  1. !!!!!!!! I haven’t read this one, but I *love* Shirley Jackson. *Adds to reading wish list* The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are two of my favourite creepy reads. Strange coincidence, Napoleon Split just sent me this essay by Joan Schenkar about her encounters with Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar during her student days at Bennington: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/03/22/the-strange-world-of-stanley-edgar-hyman-and-shirley-jackson-essay/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, yes, NP and I have been e-mailing back and forth about Jackson. She recommended The Haunting, a 1960s film version of The Haunting of Hill House. I highly recommend it. Hangsaman was great; I’ve also read The Road Through the Wall, which was not my favorite. There are these strange stand-out moments, but as a whole it does not jive like her stronger works.

      Liked by 1 person

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