Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Jackson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jackson. Show all posts

22 December, 2015

Shirley Jackson, "Family Treasures"

"Family Treasures" tells of Anne's sophomore year at college after her mother has died. Anne is quiet, polite, follows the rules, and is nearly invisible. No one thinks any thing ill or good of her. So when she begins stealing small items from the girls who live in her rooming house, no one ever suspects her. Even when she is found in the head mistress's room, Miss McBride doesn't even for an instant suspect Anne. One theme of the story, for me, is that after something tragic or huge happens to a person, sometimes they think they will be changed in some sort of fundamental way for the better. After surviving something awful and having, for a short time, lots of attention from people who had previously ignored her, Anne thought "she might be changed--her face a little prettier, perhaps, or her hair a more decided color, or at least an interesting sadness in her manner." No such luck. She even referred to her days of mourning as "the glorious days of her bereavement."

Another interesting development in the story is how suspicion is wrought over all the girls. At once, delicious, "shivered delightedly," and then again, "pleased suspicion," and finally, "terribly jealous."

At one point, it seems as though maybe Anne wants to get caught, "walking silently around her room, with its door never locked," or was she so sure no one would come to her room because no one ever had? Stealing the items seems to be one way that Anne can know the secrets of the other girls in the dormitory. She's so invisible that no one thinks or doesn't think to tell her things. In the last paragraph, Anne refers to all of the items as hers, "her ankle bracelet, her teddy bear..." She's at last assembled a family, a group of "family treasures." She puts the items in an "overnight bag" and slips out the door. I wonder what she did next.

The story is written in a shifting 3rd person POV. At one point, I was thinking maybe it was omniscient. It's that style that was more common earlier in the 20th century with shifting POVs that are almost imperceptible. The story reads quickly, for me, because some of the very long sentences made up of many short phrases flow smoothly and seamlessly and build on each other.

"Family Treasures" was unpublished until the collection Let Me Tell You was just published this year, some fifty years after Shirley Jackson's death.

19 December, 2015

Shirley Jackson, "Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons"

The opening paragraph sets the tone in that Mrs. Spencer has a lot on her plate and with the necessary "split-second timing" we see right away that she expects things to go her way. Next we see how much she detests "disagreeable obligations" and "family responsibilities that always had to be met quickly and without enjoyment." She receives a letter that she's certain she doesn't want to read but "it was ill-bred to throw away a letter without opening it..." She might have "given up mail altogether, except...from the right people..." So when some friends of her sister's move to town and start throwing Mrs. Spencer's name around, she's quite upset about it. Then the rest of the town has the unmitigated gall to actually enjoy the company of these people and it doesn't sit well at all with Mrs. Spencer.  "Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons" is quite a fun read in that I always enjoy watching elitist   prigs have fits of their own creation.

Shirley Jackson, "How I Write"

In the newly published Shirley Jackson book, Let Me Tell You, includes several essays about writing. Here are a few of my favorite lines from this essay. The first line, "I find it very difficult to distinguish between life and fiction." I'm intrigued and happy right away. Then later she states, "I tell myself stories all day long..." I thought maybe I was crazy. Happy to know I'm not alone. She also talks about how she came to write her most famous story, "The Lottery." Later she says, "I believe that a story can be made out of any such small combination of circumstances, set up to best advantage and decorated with some use of the imagination." Not everyone has to travel the world and live in a quonset hut to find a story. She also discusses writing and preparing for The Haunting of Hill House.

The New Yorker article by Jackson, "Memory and Delusion"

18 December, 2015

Shirley Jackson, "Still Life with Teapot and Students"

This 3rd person POV story from Shirley Jackson's latest collection, Let Me Tell You, was put together and published this year, edited by two of her children, Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt. This story depicts a short conversation a woman has with two college girls who have been flirting with her husband who is a professor. The story jumps right in and for the first couple of pages, we are not certain why Louise is being fairly harsh and unpleasant about these two girls. Then, bam, she flat out asks, "'You still making passes at my husband?'" The story is barely six pages long and written in a realistic style. It is as though we were peeking in the window with three women, nearly the same age, having tea, and in the course of a short conversation we find out that several young women at the college have been involved to varying extents with the married professors. We also find out that another wife got quite hysterical about it. Louise is determined to remain patronizing and calm.

Let Me Tell You also includes many unpublished stories and essays and even some lectures.

05 September, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "Colloquy"

This three-page, close, third-person point-of-view story consists of a discussion between a woman and a doctor. Mrs. Arnold, at first we think she's concerned for her own sanity, then her husband's, and actually she's concerned that she's the only one not crazy. Clearly, however, Mrs. Arnold is feeling adrift of the complexity of modernity and her husband's rants are the trigger for her to visit the doctor. It's a great short, short story. It was first published in 1944 in The New Yorker but rings true for the 2010 as well.

The New Yorker
Biography Base
Shirley Jackson, Linda Allen, literary agent

29 August, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "Men With Their Big Shoes"

This story tells of a newlywed couple, the wife pregnant, who have just moved into a new house, in a new town. Immediately a woman shows up and Mrs. Hart hires Mrs. Anderson to be her maid. Mrs. Hart is extremely pleased with her new status as woman of the house. However, as we get to know Mrs. Anderson, we watch and listen to her plant suspicions and worries in Mrs. Hart's mind. Although, Mrs. Hart was happy with her life at the outset of the story, it ends with her realization that she is still "lost."

I especially love how Jackson moves the characters around the space. "Mrs. Hart reached out and touched the yellow curtain at the window beside her..." "Mrs. Hart dropped her hand quickly from the curtain and turned to smile sympathetically..." "...walked across to the stove and looked into the teapot."

And, she uses gestures of the characters to also tell part of the story. "By now Mrs. Hart knew how to tell whether "he" meant Mr. Anderson or Mr. Hart; a gesture of Mrs. Anderson's head toward the back door and the path she took home every day meant Mr. Anderson; the same gesture toward the front door where every night Mrs. Hart met her husband meant Mr. Hart."

28 August, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "Elizabeth" and "The Flower Garden"

The short story, "Elizabeth," is written in a close third-person point of view. It's longer than many of Jackson's stories, about 42 pages. Elizabeth, the main character, is a partner in an unprofessional literary agency. Basically, she and Robbie, tell their clients that they need to use, and pay for, their editing services. They string along the clients and make little money. When Robbie hires a blonde to "decorate" the office, Elizabeth becomes manipulative. This story is less eerie than many; however, it is no less pointedly accurate with the portrayal of urges, fears, and jealousies of flawed people.

"The Flower Garden" is written in a limited third person POV. It is a nuanced study of racism; Jackson captures the way in which people conspire to keep racism alive. The Winnings, a multi-generational family live together in a big house. Helen, the daughter-in-law is "supervised" by her mother-in-law and when the new widow moves into the cottage down the street, Helen befriends her until Mrs. MacLane hires a black man to work in her garden. The Winnings and the townsfolk suddenly become unfriendly.

A short Jackson biography.

Wikipedia biography of Jackson.

27 August, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "The Renegade"

"The Renegade" begins with a page of realistic interactions, playfully competitive, with a set of elementary school aged twins, Jack and Judy, and the mother, Mrs. Walpole, feeling as though she's "wading-through molasses." The children finally make it to the school bus without all their books, hair not "accurately braided." Then a paragraph is devoted to Mrs. Walpole preparing her husband's breakfast and her suppressed sentences and feelings. In less than two full pages Jackson has set Mrs. Walpole as a devoted and dutiful mother and wife with some festering resentments. Then the telephone rings. And, Mrs. Walpole feels guilty that Mr. Walpole has to pour himself a second cup of coffee because she's had to answer the phone. A voice tells her that their dog has been killing chickens which belies the physical description Mrs. Walpole has just recounted to herself about Lady Walpole, the well-behaved hound. Old Man White, two houses down, identified the dog as Lady Walpole. The caller frightens Mrs. Walpole with "You'll have to do something about the dog." The caller goes on to remind her that there is "no way to stop a chicken-killing dog." Mr. Walpole waves goodbye and leaves unaware, or uncaring, that she's dealing with something negative.

The Walpole family has recently moved from the city to the country and they have had to ask the neighbors many questions that, in the city, would have been the realm of the superintendent or janitor.

Mrs. Walpole goes for a walk and Mrs. Nash, next door neighbor, waves her inside while she's frying doughnuts. Of course, Mrs. Nash already knows Lady has been killing chickens and she reiterates that nothing can be done with a dog once its killed. So, after eating a doughnut and Mrs. Nash promising to deliver a plateful, Mrs. Walpole is off to buy a "stout chain." As she walks past Old Man White's house, he says, "Guess you're not going to have any more dog." And, she asks him, "Is there anything I can do?" Then he regales her with his gory suggestion to cure the dog of killing chickens.

When she arrives at the grocery store, Mr. Kittredge, the grocer and a shopper, already knew about the chicken killings. The two men laugh when they tell Mrs. Walpole that someone else might put buckshot in their dog for them. Then they set about telling how she can either kill the dog or cure the dog. When she can take no more, she goes home and soon after Lady returns, with blood on her legs. The children come home for lunch. By now, they've been told what Lady did and Judy says to Lady, "You're a bad bad dog,..."you're going to get shot." Then the children tell with great eagerness and energy what another neighbor, Mr. Shepherd, told them they should do to their dog.

Mrs. Walpole feels as though Mr. Shepherd's method is being done to her and the cruelty she's witnessed in her children is "pulling her down." The dichotomy of surface innocence and the depths of cruelty parading as normalcy are integrated into a short story about a family, husband, wife, and set of twins, who has recently moved to the country from the city.

At first, I thought, The Renegade, referred to Lady Walpole, the hound who kills chickens and then frolics with the children.. However, now I think Mrs. Walpole is the renegade in that she's the only one who seems devastated by the suggestions for the cruel methods to "cure" their dog. Mrs. Walpole is avoiding the acknowledgement that she too has those cruel tendencies. She's suppressed many thoughts and resentments in just half-a-day.

Subscribe to Harper's Magazine to read this great short story. Or, purchase The Lottery and Other Stories at Barnes and Noble. Read a review of the story collection in The Independent.

23 August, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "The Lottery," "The Intoxicated," and "Like Mother Used to Make"

Shirley Jackson
"The Summer People" read on Selected Shorts refreshed my long interest in Shirley Jackson. I first read "The Lottery" in junior high and was absolutely struck by what could be done in a few pages. At that time, I was about thirteen or so, I remember being struck by what people, the characters as well as the author, were capable of. The cruelty dumbfounded me but at the same time, I felt and knew it to be true in such a way that we are all capable of horrible deeds and thoughts. I remember being amazed how Jackson suggested so much and yet, the story, in my mind, could only be read one way. Those folks stoned that woman, to death. And, they repeated the deed every year! (Of course, now I understand that there are many ways to read a story.) Re-reading it a few times over the years, my awe has never wavered. So, I was happy to find The Lottery and Other Stories on the shelf at the bookstore. After, reading, yet again, "The Lottery," I read "The Intoxicated," and "Like Mother Used to Make." I think what makes her stories so wonderful is that she captures the nuances of people trying to hide their desires and fears while manipulating those around them. She uses just the right amount of suggestion and intimation to prick our own negative dark-sides. We recognize her characters in ourselves and those close to us. She's caught us all, skinned. Yet, I don't find them negative, just honest.

Here is a link to A. M. Homes reading "The Lottery."

Another reading (or enactment) of "The Lottery" in 1951.

07 August, 2010

Shirley Jackson, "The Summer People" and Maeve Binchy, "The Wrong Suitcase"

Maeve Binchy
Listened to "The Summer People," by Shirley Jackson, performed by René Auberjonois and "The Wrong Suitecase," by Maeve Binchy, performed by Cynthia Nixon on Selected Shorts/KERA. The Jackson story builds a slow suspense about the old couple who decides to stay at their summer cottage past Labor Day. We gradually learn that all things change after Labor Day and it was probably wrong for the Allison's to decide to remain. This story does not contain the same creep factor as "The Lottery" but it is engaging and suspenseful. I loved the way Auberjonois read it. He gave the townspeople wonderful and individual voices with inflections that complemented the sense of something treacherous looming. "The Wrong Suitcase" contains a sense of creepy. Two travelers accidentally take each others' suitcases. Both of them are on trips of questionable moral goals and we learn these details as they both read the private papers in each other's suitcase.

Binchy didn't publish a novel until she was forty-two years old; although, she was a journalist and teacher before that.