Since it's both Halloween and the 50th anniversary of The Haunting of Hill House, it seems like a good time to pay our respects to a master of horror:
Says the Wall Street Journal,
Academics never have known quite what to do with Jackson. They often resist canonizing writers who dabble in genre categories and enjoy mass appeal. Yet Jackson's reputation has grown rather than diminished. Next June, the Library of America will publish a thick volume of her work, edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
Jackson had a thriving career writing light domestic pieces, although nowadays she's better remembered for her spine-tingling stories of human perfidy and otherworldly menace. Everyone's read "The Lottery" in school, just one of many amazing short stories - "The Mouse" and "My Uncle in the Garden" are just two that have refused to budge from my conscious. Her last novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castleis haunting and disturbing and has a well-deserved cult following. And then there's Hill House: For those of you who've read the book, or seen the excellent adaptation, you know the drill: several motley subjects - including a beautiful and enigmatic socialite, a playboy, and a high-strung, sheltered protagonist - agree to do a test in a spooky New England mansion to help determine the presence of the paranormal. What follows is not just deeply scary in the best gothic tradition, but plays into lots of deeper issues of women, loneliness, and the power of imagination.
Loneliness and the often ugly dynamic between people (especially women) is an ongoing theme in Jackson's work. Families and homes aren't refuges but sources of despair and [persecution and treachery. You come away from it, not just scared, but uneasy - her universe is not a pleasant one. And yet she has an eye for delicate description, an appreciation for quotidian detail (the menus in WHALITC are, not incidentally, fantastically-rendered) that's a pleasure to read. Her characters veer between lonely and steely, but no one is one-dimensional; there's always enough compassion to keep them real. Reading her is a submersion; she also takes well to being read aloud.
If you get the chance, Jackson's biography, Private Demons, is interesting: a dutiful faculty wife ("The Lottery" was apparently a dig at Bennington) Jackson also struggled with alcohol and overeating and, later, mental illness. She was often deeply depressed. She died at 48. It could not have been easy to have inhabited the world she did - even if it gave birth to such wonders. It's terrific that we're able to duck into it for a few chilling hours - and a relief that we can leave, even if hers are the stories that stay with you.