Mini Reviews: Shirley Jackson in real life

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

With Lesa Lockford narrating Shirley Jackson’s first memoir, Life Among the Savages, about her life in Vermont, this lovely, charming voice comes at you. But Jackson’s writing grabs you by the front of your shirt and drags you, even though this is “just” a domestic memoir. One particular passage about Jackson, her husband, her son, her daughter, and her baby all having grippe about gave me a panic attack. Sounds innocuous, but she hit all my anxiety buttons. Jackson’s children can be wacky, sweet, and total lying shit heads. The setting is memorable: we’re pre-seat belts or car seats, people still send out their laundry and have a milkman, and Jackson at nine months pregnant continues to smoke and drink coffee. With the rhythmic writing I associate with Jackson’s novels and Lockford’s mother-of-the-year voice, I found myself enjoying (yet gripping the steering wheel) the small-town nuttiness. No wonder Shirley Jackson wrote horror. I think I would have preferred Life Among the Savages as a physical copy so I could relish in the repetition meant to create unease, instead of Lockford’s voice delivering her interpretation of unease.

Shirley Jackson’s second memoir, Raising Demons, continues when the family moves into a new house after they discover they have no more room in their current rental situation. The time period focuses mostly on when the children are ages 3, 6, 9, and 12. Much like Life Among the Savages, Jackson is able to use repetition and building intensity to strum my anxiety strings, even if she’s talking about something as simple as getting a new cat to catch mice in their house. The oldest boy continues to be horrible, condescendingly starting all sentences with “Loook” in the most East-coast accent and calling Shirley Jackson a “tippy old lady.” Sally (6), my favorite, is imaginative, takes up magic that her family is convinced actually works, and still rides upside down in the car. Another humorous, anxiety-inducing, possibly selective look into Shirley Jackson’s family life. For the same reasons as in my first review, I would have preferred Raising Demons as a physical copy.

want to know more about shirley jackson?

Oddly, Jackson never mentions writing in her memoirs. I recently learned of biography entitled Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin in which the author explores Jackson’s toxic marriage, which is never revealed in Jackson’s memoirs. I’ll be reading Franklin’s nearly 700-page biography in a few weeks.

30 comments

    • None of Shirley Jackson? I’m surprised, though I also get that reaction from folks looking me dead in the eyes when I used to say I’d never read Jane Austen (I corrected my “error” when I read Northanger Abbey, but truthfully did not enjoy it much).

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  1. I know nothing about Shirley Jackson but these sound pretty funny. Interesting that they come across as so stressful! I wonder if that was intentionally done by Jackson or just the way she naturally wrote?

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    • I get the vibe she did this intentionally. The way she writes her sentences mimics the feelings she wants you to experience. If your family is sick and keep switching places in the house, slowly people are going to go nutty. As a mom, I think you would like these. They’re very much about family.

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    • I know that these books were originally articles in women’s magazines, so the audience is specific. Writing was considered a men’s occupation, so it might be that she could not expect to sell “masculine” articles to her female audience.

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  2. Can we blame Jackson for not wanting to discuss certain things in her life? haha sounds like her family live is entertaining enough as it is. I haven’t read her work before, but I really need to get to it (again! I know I always say these things but the new books on my shelf keep calling). If I’m going to bit the bullet and read an old book, which one of hers should I start with?

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  3. You know- I’m not really a memoir reader. (If you think about it, it’s sort of the polar opposite of fantasy, lol.) but the titles are funny and intriguing enough I might give these a try.

    I’ll skip the 700 page biography, but I hope you love it!

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  4. Oh man, I don’t even know how she write a paragraph with four little kids in the house. I can barely keep it together with just the one, ha ha. I want to read these eventually but just haven’t gotten there yet.

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  5. I understand why you might want to read these as physical books, but your reviews won’t stop me from picking up the audiobooks. 😉 Are these the only two memoirs of Jackson’s? I’m a little shocked at the cover choices… If you had asked me what author’s memoirs these covers represented, I never would have guessed Jackson. They feel so… cute? It’s at odds with her writing style.

    Unrelatedly: I am impressed with your ability to write an engaging and meaningful book review in a single paragraph! I aspire to do this, but find myself prattling on. How on earth do you manage this?

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    • A) The audiobooks are nicely recorded, so you’ll enjoy them overall. The voice actor keeps each person separate, so you’re not confused. I think the covers are more sweetie-pie because Jackson originally published segments in women’s magazines before compiling two books (and the women’s magazine audience may be why she left out all the bad stuff happening at home, such as her marriage).

      B) I taught college students how to write book reviews for 11 years, so I have some ideas about strategies for attaching a review based on audience, type of book, and length requirements. Also, Grab the Lapels is the last venue in which I have published book reviews, but not the first. Many of the book blog/publishers and national magazines I wrote for had a word count set at 300 MAX.

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      • I’m a little shocked to hear her memoirs were originally published in Women’s magazines. But then I realize what year it was, and, well, I’m less surprised now. Wah wah. Still. Those covers.

        A 300 word count MAX book review? Eff that. I could never do that. … … … Maybe I should aspire to that this year, actually. that would be a neat skill to develop. Not that I even know where to start.

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        • Basically, a 300 word count book review requires you to forgo evidence and make the reader take your word for it. That’s where you get these reviews that say things like “a whip-smart novel full of biting satire to make your heart tremble.” As I reader, I’m like, “Ermkay, that’s abstract and I have no idea what it means. Can you please explain?” and the review basically says “NO! *lightning crash*”

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