Citizen Reading: 19 December 2016
Citizen Reading: 2 January 2017

Ruth Franklin's Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

I'm just going to say it: I was disappointed in Ruth Franklin's biography of Shirley Jackson, titled Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

Which hurts me to say, because I looked forward to it for so long. I also plowed through the thing in just a few days. It was good; it was readable; it was very obviously thoughtfully compiled and written and impeccably researched and footnoted.

Shirley jacksonBut for some reason it just didn't resonate with me. Perhaps I did it an injustice by reading it shortly after re-reading Jackson's own humorous memoirs of motherhood, titled Life among the Savages and Raising Demons. Those books were just so good, and left me hungry for more family details. And those were just not forthcoming here. Franklin is very good at describing Jackson's childhood, her often contentious relationship with her overbearing mother, the development of her writing and style (this is very much a "literary biography," examining Jackson's works, style, and influences), and even her marriage, although she seemed to focus more on Jackson's husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, than on the "marriage," per se. But there was really very little about the children, Jackson's relationship with them, or any sort of closure on the lives they went on to lead. And you know? That's all fine. This is a biography of Shirley, not her her children. And maybe they didn't want any of their personal details discussed. But I couldn't help feeling that her children and home life were much bigger parts of Jackson's life than you would know just from reading this biography.

Franklin seems to approach Jackson's interpersonal relationships more for how they affected her work. In the introduction, she says this:

"As a writer and mother myself, I am struck by how contemporary Jackson's dilemmas feel: her devotion to her children coexists uneasily with her fear of losing herself in domesticity. Several generations later, the intersection of life and work continues to be one of the points of most profound anxiety in our society--an anxiety that affects not only women but also their husbands and children." (p. 9.)

It was a good book. It just wasn't quite what I wanted. It actually made me want to re-read an earlier biography of Jackson, Judy Oppenheimer's Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, which I had found a bit overbearing when I first read it. I wonder how I'd find it now. And, if you're really looking for some good info on Jackson's relationship with at least one of her children, I would definitely check out this NPR interview with her son Laurence. I enjoyed that a lot (as well as the entire program on her).

Happy Christmas, all, and to all a good night. See you sometime next week.