Top positive review
A Wonderful and Well-Researched Biography on a Literary Legend
Reviewed in the United States on November 27, 2016
When I was in eighth grade, one of the stories in our literature textbook was “Charles”. This was my introduction to Shirley Jackson, and a few years later, I read The Haunting of Hill House. I was forever a fan after that, and have since gone on to read many of her other stories. So when I saw a biography on her was on the way, I waited anxiously!
I wasn’t disappointed. Ruth Franklin does an outstanding job, thanks to the monumental research she conducted through Jackson’s archives and interviews with her children and those still alive who were closest to her. Much is told about Jackson’s beginnings and upbringing, her turbulent relationships with both her husband and mother, and her writing career. Her humorous essays and stories on domesticity that were a staple of 1950s women’s magazines may have been embellished—if the real truth of her life is any indicator. Her horror and psychological terror tales (which made me the fan I am, since I’m a 40ish single male who can’t really identify with her “housewife” stuff) gave her a different audience, and had other readers scratching their heads on the departure it was from her more whimsical work.
The book is at times scholarly, a bit juicy here and there, and all together hard to put down. As an author who dips into multiple genres myself, Jackson is one of my many inspirations as a writer, so I always enjoy a good biography on those who paved the way. Her relationships with her husband and mother are a bit heartbreaking at times. Franklin does an amazing job chronicling the complexities of Jackson’s struggles here, as well as other ailments and insecurities. You get the sense Jackson never really found any kind of needed closure with her husband and mother—and never fully rode the wave of success she deserved—before her untimely death (a heart attack in her sleep) at age 48.
As a reader, I’m so grateful for this biography and the works of Jackson that live on more than fifty years after her passing. Reading this book has inspired me to go back and re-read Hill House, as well as the novels of Jackson’s I’ve never read. I’m also now a fan of Franklin’s and can’t wait to see who her next subject will be.