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Millions of Americans have read "The Lottery"--if you've ever wondered about the mind behind it, you will love this biography.
Using new interviews and new correspondence, Ruth Franklin has produced a vivid yet nuanced portrait of Jackson, both as a writer and as a woman leading what was a very unconventional life for a member of The Greatest Generation. Her marriage was "mixed": her husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, was Jewish at a time of widespread anti-semitism. Amid the racial bias of that era, some of the couple's friends, like novelist Ralph Ellison, were not white. Her more frightening works, like "The Lottery" and "The Haunting of Hill House," caused sensations when they were printed, and Jackson herself read tarot cards, claiming the label of "practicing amateur witch."
Coexisting with all that, however, was a more conventional person, a writer whose funny family stories frequently appeared in magazines for "ladies," like Good Housekeeping and Mademoiselle. A mother of four herself, she produced a book of advice for new mothers.
At the same time, neither version of Shirley Jackson was definitive--and neither was happy. The only daughter of a viciously critical mother who essentially rejected her, Jackson was self-conscious and anxious to extremes, suffering from agoraphobia and nightmares. Her marriage was not happy: Hyman, too, was over-critical, and she felt he lavished attention on his students and friends (including female friends), while paying less attention to her and the children.
Franklin observes the tension between the two unhappy Shirleys, drawing sharp parallels to Jackson's fiction. She is usually kind, even toward the womanizing Hyman, but she's never condescending as she shows us everything that Jackson was up against in post-war America: the idea that writing was men's work meant her writing often didn't get the attention it deserved. Small-town prejudice created constant nuisance in her daily life. The expectations for women of her era were difficult for any woman to embody--let alone a brilliant creative like Jackson.
I came away with a feeling that Jackson would have been happier if she were born later in history, and the simultaneous knowledge that a later Jackson would not have been the same writer. Like all the best biographers, Franklin concentrates on the personal while never overwhelming us with too much detail. Bernadette Dunne's smooth narration makes this book an excellent listen. Five stars all around--recommended for anyone who loves Jackson, even those who've read only "The Lottery."
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Franklin delivers one of the most thorough biographies of one of my favorite authors. She documents all of Jackson's life, her beginnings, her rise, her challenges, and her unfortunate early death. Franklin provides excellent sources and wonderful depth to the life of Jackson. My only serious critique is that Dunne does not distinguish between some of the 'characters' in this book well. However her pacing is solid, her pronunciation is easy to understand, and she does a decent enough job between switching her normal voice for the voice of Jackson when she reads sources directly attributed to Jackson. If you are a fan of Jackson's works, this biography is a must a listen.