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The Road Through The Wall Hardcover – January 1, 1948
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- ASIN : B0006ARJAS
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus; 1st edition (January 1, 1948)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 271 pages
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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At the end of the book, I didn’t know who had done what. The whole thing was pointless to me.
Top reviews from other countries
So it’s always been a particular annoyance that her earlier work has not been easily available in the UK. Fortunately that’s an omission that Penguin are now putting right, starting with Jackson’s first novel The Road Through The Wall.
First impressions: The Road Through The Wall begins with a paragraph which is, in its own way, equal to the celebrated openings to Hill House and We Have Always Lived In The Castle:
"The weather falls more gently on some places than on others, the world looks down more paternally on some people. Some spots are proverbially warm, and keep, through falling snow, their untarnished reputation as summer resorts; some people are automatically above suspicion..."
It's probably not giving away too much to reveal that the characters in this book who are viewed by the world as being "above suspicion" don't deserve such a thing. Unlike much of Jackson’s more well-known work The Road Through The Wall is a realistic story, about a number of families in ‘respectable’ Pepper Street in suburban America. It has an episodic structure, with scenes of everyday life for both the adults and children on the street revealing the snobbery, egotism, bigotry, and petty envy behind the respectable façade. Then the wall that separates Pepper Street from its less bourgeois neighbours is breached by a new road, things comes to a head, and the community experiences a dreadful double tragedy.
There’s a lot of characters for such a small book, and sometimes they are hard to keep track of, but that seems almost the point – nearly everyone on the street ascribes to a kind of middle-class Groupthink, a suburban hive-mind that sometimes seems to stifle and paralyse them – they read each other’s diaries, they constantly reaffirm each other’s attitudes, they cannot make a decision about the pettiest of things , such as which local shop to direct a newcomer to, without worrying if it's the correct thing. And during key scenes towards the end, Jackson ceases to describe them as individuals, but as a crowd on the hunt for someone to blame for what has happened:
"The people in the street [...] had gathered so close together than it was impossible to single out any of them [...] they were so close together that there were no names for any of the faces, and the hands might be clasped together tight in the hands of strangers. "
Readers of The Lottery will already know how well Jackson understands mob-think and the punishment of scapegoats.
It’s a slighter book than some of her later work, but A Road Through The Walls is a splendid book in its own way, and shows how good a writer Jackson was right from the start.
Jackson was to say, that the first book an author publishes is the book written to get back at their parents, and, certainly, there are hints that some of this novel comes from her childhood experiences. The scene is a suburban childhood, in the fictional Californian town of Cabrillo. Jackson hints at her dissatisfaction with her own childhood experiences – the constraints of being well brought up, the veneer of respectability ,and the ugly emotions that she scented beneath that outward, public behaviour.
For those who have delighted in, “The Haunting of Hill House,” or “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” this may seem a little tamer, but there is much in this, first book, which suggests both Jackson’s brilliance as a writer – her sharp, satirical eye – and glimpses of the work that is yet to come.
It is the start of the summer holidays in Pepper Street, and the inhabitants of the houses have long days ahead of them. The neighbourhood children are allowed to play out and it is with the children of the street that Jackson is mainly concerned. Their various feuds, battles, friendships and loyalties, that will be tested through this book.
Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors. In this book she peeks behind curtains (at one point, a boy in the road even creeps into another families house), examines marriages, parenting styles, snobbishness, intolerance, prejudice, bullying, casual cruelties, and more. She is perfect at capturing the undercurrent – the way a neighbour leans forward to hear a titbit of gossip, then rushes to the telephone to pass on the news, or the sniping arguments between a married couple. The way those who feel they are more respectable, sneer at those they sense are beneath them. The scent of fear, of weakness, of anything which can be exploited.
The book culminates in a neighbourhood party and a shocking conclusion. Perhaps more shocking is the reaction to the events, which are all too modern and realistic. There may have been no social media, or mobile phones, in 1948, but Jackson had no illusions about the cruelty of human nature. I was far more impressed by this than I thought I would be and look forward to reading of Jackson’s work.
Every one of Jackson's novels is excellent and in The Road through the Wall her style emerged pretty much fully formed, for a dark but compelling work. Most of Jackson's novels are seen through the eyes of a single character, always female, always isolated and with a tenuous grasp of reality(Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House is the classic example). The Road through the Wall is the exception as there is no central character, rather a quickly changing kaleidoscope of characters inhabiting Pepper Street, average American suburbia, where propriety is always maintained but a constant undercurrent of malice and dissatisfaction is detectable, in Jackson's distinctly misanthropic view. Harriet Merriam, an overweight teen dominated by her manipulative mother, and Miss Tyler, a fading spinster living with her sister and her husband(like Eleanor), both embody traits of the typical Jackson protagonist, but there are several other characters given equal space. Jackson's sympathy is with the misfits in Pepper Street society, especially Tod Donald, an awkward teen ignored by his peers and regarded with distaste by his family, but a key character, as it turns out.
This novel is vintage Jackson, which means that it is very good indeed. To try and sum up Jackson's style is difficult but to me her work seems something of a literary equivalent of the Doors song "People are Strange", if you get my meaning. Dark, cynical, always seeing beyond the facades worn by humans in respectable society and uncovering the savagery and petty spite beneath. There's no fooling her, she sees right through to humanity's dark heart and lays it bare in all its twisted ugliness. If that's not your bag, try something else.