The Letters of Shirley Jackson
A bewitchingly brilliant collection of never-before-published letters from the renowned author of “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS • “This biography-through-letters gives an intimate and warm voice to the imagination behind the treasury of uncanny tales that is Shirley Jackson’s legacy.”—Joyce Carol Oates
Shirley Jackson is one of the most important American authors of the last hundred years and among our greatest chroniclers of the female experience. This extraordinary compilation of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Jackson’s beloved fiction: flashes of the uncanny in the domestic, sparks of horror in the quotidian, and the veins of humor that run through good times and bad.
i am having a fine time doing a novel with my left hand and a long story—with as many levels as grand central station—with my right hand, stirring chocolate pudding with a spoon held in my teeth, and tuning the television with both feet.
Written over the course of nearly three decades, from Jackson’s college years to six days before her early death at the age of forty-eight, these letters become the autobiography Shirley Jackson never wrote. As well as being a bestselling author, Jackson spent much of her adult life as a mother of four in Vermont, and the landscape here is often the everyday: raucous holidays and trips to the dentist, overdue taxes and frayed lines of Christmas lights, new dogs and new babies. But in recounting these events to family, friends, and colleagues, she turns them into remarkable stories: entertaining, revealing, and wise. At the same time, many of these letters provide fresh insight into the genesis and progress of Jackson’s writing over nearly three decades.
The novel is getting sadder. It’s always such a strange feeling—I know something’s going to happen, and those poor people in the book don’t; they just go blithely on their ways.
Compiled and edited by her elder son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, in consultation with Jackson scholar Bernice M. Murphy and featuring Jackson’s own witty line drawings, this intimate collection holds the beguiling prism of Shirley Jackson—writer and reader, mother and daughter, neighbor and wife—up to the light.
Praise for The Letters of Shirley Jackson
“A can’t-miss literary artifact from one of America’s most important authors.”—USA Today
“Shirley Jackson’s letters could make an errand more exciting than your entire life.”—Los Angeles Times
“A work of art in its own right . . . as vivid and subversive as her fiction.”—Chicago Review of Books
“[These letters are] glorious additions to [Jackson’s] oeuvre. They are intimate, invigorating, essential.”—Toronto Star
“Startlingly vivacious.”—The New Republic
“Many writers feel that the self who writes exists in a partially unknowable state, separate from the self who goes about her worldly business, talking with friends and colleagues, cooking dinner, ferrying her children around. With Jackson, the division seems especially vivid. . . . [Here], the inner world that writes gives voice to the outer world that doesn’t.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Jackson’s] fiction, full of misanthropy, madness and murder, tends to be viewed through the lens of her personal torments and, more generally, of the misogyny of the age. What is striking about Jackson’s letters, however, is that while they testify to pretty outrageous domestic double standards . . . they show very little sign of unhappiness. The mood of the missives is buoyant, garrulous and eager to amuse, and while Jackson often seems stressed and exasperated, she’s rarely despairing. . . . The labors of domesticity and artistry are fused in these letters in a way that seems to me unique.”—The Wall Street Journal
“This collection, edited by Jackson’s son, brings together one of Jackson’s other great literary loves apart from short stories: the letter. Written in a distinctive lowercase typewriter font on yellow paper, the correspondence offers another view of the wit that permeated Jackson’s fiction.”—The New York Times
“The breadth of Shirley Jackson’s artistry is still being recognized. This intimate collection of her correspondence makes us feel the odds against which this working mother, daughter, and wife accomplished what she did, and at what costs. This book is surely as much a feminist document as a literary one.”—Jonathan Lethem
“The Letters of Shirley Jackson offers so much more than a simple peek behind the curtain of one of the most important literary lives of the twentieth century. Her letters are full of warmth and insight while displaying her uncompromising wit and talent, as well as a melancholic, haunted vulnerability. . . . A book to be cherished and reread.”—Paul Tremblay
“This collection was invigorating and life-sustaining for me to read, coming to me exactly when I needed it, in a way that feels like a miracle (or like someone cast a spell). These letters are so warm and funny and thoughtful and wicked, revealing an unexpectedly rich way of looking at the world that makes space for both love and horror.”—Kristen Roupenian