Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Ruth Franklin
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Nov 15, 2017

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors, and I really enjoyed this biography about her life. Even if you are unfamiliar with Jackson, however, you can appreciate this well-researched biography that chronicles the social and political background that shaped the author's writing, as well as the mindset of America during her adult life in the 1930s through the 1960s. Each chapter describes two to four years of her life, from her birth in California in 1916, through her move to New York, until finally her death in Vermont at the age of 48. Franklin's biography, though extensive and exhaustive in its research and scope, is an enjoyable and rewarding reading experience. I was not prepared for such a fascinating read concerning the treatment and stigma of mental illness of the time, how social and political issues were interpreted by Jackson, the struggle between Jackson and her mother, amusing adventures raising four rowdy children, as well as intriguing glimpses into the publishing world. Franklin uses diary entries, old manuscripts, and interviews to bring Jackson and her world back to life. The biography includes a lengthy index.

Part of what fascinates me about Shirley Jackson--besides being interested in her life because she is one of my favorite authors--is her ability to exist in two very different worlds. She was a woman of her time, devoted to societal norms in suburbia, but also a recognized writer who threw lavish parties with famous authors. She was both participant in and sly observer/critic of the society by whose rules she abided.

It is interesting fully realizing what was going on in the world and in Jackson's own home and how that shaped her work, from devastating hurricanes to World War II to her own crumbling marriage. Jackson's interests in the paranormal inspired the title of this biography; many of her works compare supernatural experiences with social and psychological issues. I loved discovering the background information and inspiration for her works. If you are interested in or nostalgic for that certain era, or if you are interested in a very human portrait of a world-renowned author, then you will enjoy this biography.

Reviewed by Jesseca B.
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