True psychological horror. The darkness behind suburban affluence is apparent in Hangsaman, as is the privilege behind seemingly homogenous gated communities. The restraints of family and domesticity, loss of identity and self are threaded throughout.
For fans of Shirley Jackson – some of her short stories make reappearances here. Those familiar with Jackson and know her short stories, biography, and ‘The Birds Nest’ (Lizzy) will see many familiar elements skillfully interwoven in this chilling coming of age story about 17 year old Natalie going off to college; which strangely echoes Bennington, where Jackson’s own husband works — and where terrible things happen.
Told at times through such a close and perspective the events unfolding around Natalie may be unclear, but key elements of her life (such as a father/husband figure openly carrying out an extramarital relationship with a neighbour at a garden party while her mother is inside the house and that same mother’s own mental health issues) echo the events in Jackson’s personal life.
One ‘complaint’ is that this novel at times feels like three disparate novellas stuck together; with a distinct part one, two, and three, carrying through the same main character through a disconcerting change in settings and surrounding action with each part being able to stand on its own. Honestly, the opening scenes of the garden party are worth reading as an accompaniment to Jackson’s own life, and the continuing adventures of Natalie going to school carry the reader further into psychological distress.
Themes of darkness, seeking self, and identity throughout. TRIGGER WARNING SA.
If you write, read this book. Seriously, if you write anything at all — memoir, romance, horror, essays or nonfiction or whatever — read this book. Advice and wisdom on strategies, plotting, grammar, and dealing with rejection — this book has it all. And no matter your opinion on Stephen King, I can’t say enough about the practicality and inspiring aspects of On Writing, other than just to read the damned book.
Key points from On Writing:
Finish a novel in 3 months – just one season – or it will feel like dispatches from a foreign consulate.
Write 2000 words a day. Every day. Even on Christmas and your birthday, just keep writing.
Grammar is as grammar does, check the guides, but don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.
Remove excess words, which is ironic advice from someone who writes 200,000 word novels.
Beware the adverb, or your prose will slip silently beneath the murky waters of insipidness.
Active voice is your man. Passive voice and clichés are something good writers should avoid like the plague. And sentence fragments too. Unless you’re using them for emphasis.
Use words that matter. Avoid vague descriptions of stuff.
Bottom line: keep on writing, even when it feels like you’re shovelling shit from one pile to another. And especially then. Just keep moving forward.
With a preface written by Shirley Jackson herself, as well as her hilarious epilogue on ‘Fame’, Just an Ordinary Day is a collection of previously unpublished or uncollected stories, many of which were recently found in a box in a barn in Vermont, having been forgotten for decades.
Edited by two of Jackson’s own children, Laurence (‘Laurie’ of Savages) Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt (‘Sally’ of the same), with an introduction by Laurence Jackson Hyman, ‘Just an Ordinary Day’ brings together an incredibly diverse array of short stories. From psychological terror to heart-warming family pieces, this collection shows the range and depth of Jackson’s skill as she masterfully blends humour and macabre.
As with Let Me Tell You (2015), Just an Ordinary Day (1996, 2015) brings an amazing collection of short stories to old fans and new readers; and combines the best of Jackson’s short stories with themes of identity, relationships, social conformity, set with heavy (and at times, near equal;) doses of humour and terror.