Rich people hide inside their mansion, isolated from the peasant rabble, and there they sit, surrounded by the luxury of generational wealth, waiting for the end of the world…
I re-read this one at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was stockpiling groceries and TP… and had to laugh when I came to the part in the novel when the characters burn all the books in the library only to fill their shelves with groceries and TP.
Things change, the more they remain the same…
The Sundial is a dark look at human nature, told through the eyes of Shirley Jackson, and one familiar with her personal history as an affluent West Coast debutant-turned bohemian New Yorker transplanted to rural Vermont will understand Jackson’s casting of the villagers as always ‘other’ — a slightly savage force to be endured, while the highly diverse and at times, hilariously misfit, collection of wealthy characters huddled together inside the mansion maintain their rich comforts… even one crowning themselves as leader in the new world.
The darkly hilarious portrayals of wealth and privilege at the expense of the working class are what make Jackson’s work so powerful; this is beyond a preapocalyptic prepping story, this is a story of the self-declared chosen few and their entitlement, which remains truly terrifying.
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.
Shirley Jackson is an American writer, now best known for ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (as seen on Netflix), the book ‘The Birdcage’ (inspiring the movie ‘Lizzy’) as well as being the subject of the novel ‘Shirley’ (by Susan Scarf Merrell) and the subsequent Netflix show.
Previously overlooked for decades (in spite of the success of ‘The Lottery’), Shirley Jackson seems to have crept into contemporary popular culture.
‘Let Me Tell You’ helps put Shirley Jackson, and her work, in a broader context.
Released in 2015, this compilation of short stories, essays, and other artifacts, including drawings and sketches spans Shirley Jackson’s life (1916 – 1965); and includes some unpublished and uncollected stories, and work from her early period during the war, as well as her lectures on writing in as given to college students her final years.
For the truly devoted Jackson aficionado, this collection offers work you might have not otherwise come across; and for the newcomer to all things Shirley Jackson, it offers very readable stories and essays that span styles and decades – from the warm-hearted family slice of life stories, ‘Honestly Mother’ and ‘Questions I Wish I’d Never Asked’ (about the search for resolution regarding a frozen garden hose), to the eerily unsettling ‘Paranoia’ and ‘Daughter, Come Home’ – this collection brings together Jackson’s mastery of humour, and psychological terror – the fears of identity, social pressure, and relationships – set across quiet suburbs and city blocks.
Edited by her children, Laurence (‘Laurie’ of Savages) Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt (‘Sally’ of the same), with a forward by literary critic and biographer Ruth Franklin, this collection of short stories brings new insight into the work of Shirley Jackson. I highly recommend it to fans of ‘Savages’ and those familiar with Jackson’s biography.