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04 December 2012


As I stated yesterday, I liked Life among the Savages. I don’t know if I would have read it, however, if not for the ménage. I can’t really compare it to any recent mommy memoirs, however. I don’t have kids (and don’t tell CR, but I don’t read that much non-fiction).

I am now about 100 pages in to the Jackson bio, and Oppenheimer makes the point that Jackson really understood children, their imagination and creativity. I think that some of the stories Jackson chose to put in LATS is indicative of this. For example, the eldest daughter’s invisible friends (Margret, Marilyn, etc.); they were as real to the daughter as a tree or a dog. And she was so harsh in her punishment of them when they were naughty. It reminded me of my little niece at around age 5 pretending to be a doctor with my sister and telling her, “I’m sorry, but you are just too sick, you are going to die”.

I also remember the youngest daughter telling her mom, “In my river, we sleep in wet beds, and we hear our mothers calling us. In the river no one ever comes except us”, which is a little creepy. But little kids are like that sometimes. In fact, this particular bit reminded me of Merricat Blackwood.

I suspect that the books are only semi-fictional. I suspect that she may have exaggerated here or there to make a better story and that she left a lot out. So it is not autobiographical. But I still think it is fair to classify them as non-fiction.

Here is a link to another review about LATS. This is where I first heard of the book, in fact.

I loved both of Shirley's Mommy Memoirs. Glad you liked LATS too.
I agree totally with you (and Oppenheimer) that Jackson's ability to understand (and in many ways, recreate or access) a child's mind is what really makes her NF, and her fiction to an extent. I also think she probably understood the cruelty of children, which is often not meant the way adults think of cruelty but is cruel all the same. As you get farther in the bio I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on her and her kids--she seems such an odd mix of nurturing and fascinated by her kids, and yet sometimes standoffish. I found that particularly fascinating as a parent (albeit to one kid) and in light of today's parenting methods, which seem to focus more heavily on overparenting your kids rather than just letting them be.
I too would call them NF, although I don't think they were called that when they were first published. And thanks for the other review--I'm off to read it.
P.S. It's okay if you don't read a lot of nonfiction, just read the good stuff. :)

As I vowed in response to your NY Times Notables post, CR, I went ahead and read Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir "Are You My Mother?".

It was not nearly as depressing as Fun Home. I preferred Fun Home for having better storytelling and fewer psychoanalytic conceits, but nobody dies.

I don't know if you can call it a Mommy Memoir. I don't know that I've ever read a memoir of motherhood, and I am totally okay with that. I think maybe I'll read Anne Lamott someday. That's the most you'll get from me.

Bechdel's book is about her mother and her mother's parenting style. She digs deep into the professional literature to understand the psychology of motherhood. So, although this memoir is written from the perspective of the daughter rather than the mother, I could argue that it is a mommy memoir. It is however a very far cry from anything that would have been written by, say, Erma Bombeck.

As I confessed yesterday, I did not read any nonfiction by or about Shirley Jackson. Honestly I forgot about that part of the assignment, though even if I'd remembered it would have been doubtful. And my post here, now that I think about it, answers absolutely none of the questions you asked.

No worries, lesbrarian, I enjoy a good digression.
Oh, sigh, the Bechdel. I should probably give it a look but it will most likely just make me wonder what CRjr will discover about his mother someday when he's in psychoanalysis.

Goodness, my brain is mush after my first week of returning to full time work and it being the teaching of high schoolers, I think I should be excused. I almost forgot it was Shirley Jackson week; I really did enjoy my time immersed in her writing and her odd life. LATS was wonderful. I thought she took encouraging interest in her kids and their imaginations. Totally to counteract her mother's lack of same.

Wow, best of luck in the new full-time job! Anything with high schoolers is a lot to do...

It's easy to become "immersed" in Shirley, isn't it? I too found it an interesting contrast between her childhood and her parenthood--I was so glad I read her bio to learn more about her.

I remember in the biography how her mother wrote a letter cautioning her not to go on and on in the family stories about how untidy and chaotic her house was. Shirley must have been on the verge of madness growing up with such a humorless mother.

Well, you can certainly see how Shirley had to develop some imagination, growing up in what I'm sure was a rather (or very) conventional household.

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