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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Shirley Jackson, the greatest horror writer in the San Francisco Bay Area

Robert Diaz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].

Born on December 14, 1916 in San Francisco, California, like her literature, Shirley Hardie Jackson's childhood was full of aberrations and contradictions that would deeply mark the writer. Her mother, Geraldine went so far as to say that she didn't have to be born. The reason she gave was because she needed to spend more time with her handsome husband. In the face of her mother's personality, little Shirley had trouble socializing with her peers. To her mother's chagrin, she preferred to isolate herself to write. She would ask herself questions like her character, the teenage Merricat from The Road Through the Wall (1948): "Who wants us out there? The world is full of bad people.    

            Her adolescence was also broken because she did not fit the prevailing beauty standards of the time, suffering from overweight. Her literary activity would grow as Jackson finished college, collaborating with literary magazines such as Harper's, The New Republic, The New Yorker, among others. Soon after, she married literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, with whom she would have "four children, four cats, a dog and a hamster," as she herself would write.

            His literature is peppered with a whiff of strangeness and vileness; a prevailing mystery that he had to live or rather suffer in the town of North Bennington, in New England, where he would live a little hell thanks to the accusation he made, along with other parents, to a local teacher for physically mistreating the students. The town's inhabitants were all over him and he often received offenses for this action, a situation that worsened his already tendency to isolation and that he reflected in his novel The Road Through the Wall where a couple of women are harassed by a whole town forcing them to stay locked up or to go out very little, before a massacre occurred in their unclear house.

            Shirley's predominant voice is struggling with her immediate spaces, which she fills with mysteries and everyday situations that, because of their simplicity, she spins with great narrative precision, let's say without getting dirty, but transforming it, turning the commonplace into something abnormal and even terrifying. 

            Shirley, suffered the United States after the 50's, those of the cold war, a small-town, hostile and conservative society where the role of women was relegated to household chores. Jackson, with her husband, relived the rejection that her mother Geraldine had shown her; Stanley called her: "that talented idiot" controlled her finances (even though she earned much more than he did) and forced her to put up with his infidelities.

            He lived in a state of continuous excitement from which he fed his favourite themes: anguish and claustrophobia. The protagonists of his works are dragged by the force of circumstances and their personal ghosts: the monstrous is found in family relationships, friendship circles, neighbours, mansions and villages.

         He died on August 8, 1965, in addition to being overweight, he suffered from alcoholism. His health was weakened by the constant use of barbiturates to control his growing anxiety. He spent his last days at home, a prisoner of a terrible agoraphobia: his validity has had a relevance that nowadays has led scholars to rescue works such as the The Haunting of Hill House which has been adapted on Netflix and directed by Mike Falanagan. 

Your story The Lottery was the one that brought her fame, it also made her receive more than ten letters a day where they congratulated her and even threatened her not to go near places because the story, a normalization of evil, seemed grotesque and frightening to them.

         Jackson went so far as to sign that she couldn't stand people, "who think you start writing the moment you sit down at your desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put it down; a writer is always writing". Isolated from the world, she had to deal with her children and family life, which often became an obstacle.

         Thanks to the themes she dealt with, the publishers of her time associated her novels with an author who practiced witchcraft, something that deeply bothered the writer, who was nevertheless convinced that she had suffered "magical" clairvoyant attacks. Some of her characters talked to cats and had great knowledge of herbalism. Although she did not like the appellation, her literature sublimated her life, it gave her the opportunity to escape the continuous confinement that her family life brought her, from where she fought to escape through her letters. She died of a heart attack when she was 48 years old.


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