Sunday, April 30, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt nine)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

We stopped at Walker Percy’s in Covington, Louisiana. We sat out in back by the bayou and drank gin and tonics and when a light rain began to fall, a kind of mist, Walker never paid any mind but just kept talking, and walking up to the house to get fresh drinks. It was a thunderstorm, with odd light, and there were occasional water-skiers on the black bayou water. “The South,” he said, “owes a debt to the North . . . tore the Union apart once . . . and now only the South can save the North.” He said he had not wanted to see us in New Orleans, at Ben C.’s, because at Ben C.’s he was always saying thing he would not ordinarily say, playing a role. Greenville, he said, was a different kind of town. He had spent some time in Los Angeles once but could not face it. “It was the weather,” his wife said mildly. “The weather was bad.” “It wasn’t the weather,” he said, and he knew exactly what it was.

Crossing the Pontchartrain bridge, the gray water, the gray causeway, the gray skyline becoming apparent in the far distance just about the time you lose sight of the shore behind you. The sight of New Orleans coming up like a mirage from about the midway point on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt eight)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

We drove out on Old Taylor Road at night to look for Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s house. There were fireflies, and heat lighning, and the thick vines all around, and we could not see the house until the next day. It was large and private, secluded, set back from the road. I read a book about Faulkner in Oxford, interviews with his fellow citizens in Oxford, and I was deeply affected by their hostility to him and by the manner in which he had managed to ignore it. I thought if I took a rubbing from his gravestone, a memento from this place, I would know every time I looked at it that the opinion of others counted for not much one way or another.

So we went out to the graveyard, the Oxford cemetery, to look for the grave. Under a live oak tree a black kid sat in a parked two-tone salmon Buick, the door open. He was sitting on the floorboard with his feet outside, and while I was there several cars with Ole Miss and Archie’s Army stickers came winding up the cemetery road, and boys would get out, and they would have some dealing with the black kid and drive away. He seemed to be dealing marijuana, and his car had a Wayne State sticker. Other than that there was nobody, just rabbits and squirrels and the hum of bees and the heat, dizzying heat, heat so intense I thought of fainting. For several hours we looked for the grave, found the Faulkner plot and a number of other Faulkner/Falkner graves, but we never found William Faulkner’s grave, not in that whole graveyard full of Oxford citizens and infant sons.

Friday, April 28, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt seven)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

At dinner in the Holiday Inn, overhearing an academic foursome: two teachers, the wife of one of them, and a younger woman, perhaps a graduate student or a teaching assistant. They were talking about how the SAEs and the Sigma Nus and the Sigma Chis used to “control politics.” The break in this situation had come when Archie Manning, who was I believe a Sigma Nu, had run for something and either lost, or just barely won, which went to prove. There had been “a little article in the Mississippian about this,” about the way the Greeks used to run things, and, said one of the men, “it said they did no more, but it upset my wife and daughter. Why did that have to be?”

The others added that the piece had been “trivial,” “not very well done,” but they did not address themselves to their colleagues’s plaintive question.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt six)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

It is said that the dead center of Birmingham society is the southeast corner of the locker room at the Mountain Brook country club. At Mountain Brook everyone goes to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church or Briarwood Presbyterian, and it is hard to make the connection between this Birmingham and that of Bull Connor, and Birmingham Sunday.

Lunch with Hugh Bailey at the club, up high enough to see the smoke haze. “We got a pollution count in Birmingham now, which I guess you could say is a sign of progress.” On that day the Birmingham Post-Herald (June 18) reported the downtown pollution count at 205, or over the U.S. Public Health Service’s critical level, and the number of respiratory deaths in Jefferson County that week at six. There did not seem to be much pollution in Mountain Brook.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt five)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

At the Ramada Inn in Tuscaloosa I sat outside by the swimming pool about five o’clock one afternoon and read Sally Kempton’s piece in Esquire about her father and other men she had known. There was no sun. The air was as liquid as the pool. Everything seemed to be made of concrete, and damp. A couple of men in short-sleeved nylon shirts sat at another metal table and drank beer from cans. Later we tried to find somewhere open to eat. I called a place on University Boulevard , and the owner said to turn left at the Skyline Drive-in. On the way we got lost and stopped in a gas station to ask directions. The attendant had no idea where University Boulevard was (the University of Alabama is on University Boulevard) but could give us directions to the Skyline.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt four)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

Charles L. Sullvan, introduced as “lieutenant governor of the state of Mississippi and a member of the Clarksdale Baptist Church,” rose to speak. “I have come to think we are living in the era of the demonstrators—unruly, unwashed, uninformed, and sometimes un-American people—disrupting private and public life in this country.” He complained of the press, “for whom two loud ‘Ah Hate Mississippis’ would be sufficient. This adult generation accomplished more than any generation in the history of civilization—it started the exploration of God’s limitless space. I simply will not hear them cry Pig for a situation they themselves began. Ah don’t believe the right to disagree is the right to destroy the University at Jackson or Kent State or [the “even” was implicit] Berkeley. If it is true, as they say, that they have despaired of the democratic process, then I and my fellow demonstrators shall absolutely insist that if our system is to be changed it shall be changed in the ballot box and not in the streets.” He finally ended on the rote ending to southern speeches: “We can live together in the dignity and freedom which their Creator surely intended.”

With many of the Highway Patrol as honored guests there was an undertone to this lunch and throughout his speech, since it was the Highway Patrol who had done the shooting at Jackson.

Monday, April 24, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt three)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

At Pass Christian in the summer of 1970 the debris of the 1969 hurricane had become the natural look of the landscape. The big houses along the water were abandoned, the schools and churches were wiped out, the windows of places hung askew. The devastation along the Gulf had an inevitability about it: the coast was reverting to its natural state. There were For Sale signs all over, but one could not imagine buyers. I remembered people talking about Pass Christian as a summer place, and indeed the house had once been pretty and white and the American flags unfaded, but even in the good years there must have been an uneasiness there. They sat on those screened porches and waited for something to happen. The place must have always failed at being a resort, if the special quality of a resort is defined as security: there is here that ominous white/dark light so characteristic of the entire Gulf.

The city hall in Pass Christian faces away from the Gulf, and when you happen upon it from the front it looks like a façade from a studio back lot, abandoned a long time ago. Through the shattered windows one sees the dark glare of the Gulf. You want to close your eyes.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt two)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

As it happens I was taught to cook by someone from Louisiana, where an avid preoccupation with recipes and food among men was not unfamiliar to me. We lived together for some years, and I think we most fully understood each other when once I tried to kill him with a kitchen knife. I remember spending whole days cooking with N., perhaps the most pleasant days we spent together. He taught me to fry chicken and to make a brown rice stuffing for fowl and to chop endive with garlic and lemon juice and to lace everything I did with Tabasco and Worcestershire and black pepper. The first present he ever gave me was a garlic press, and also the second, because I broke the first. One day on the Eastern Shore we spent hours making shrimp bisque and then had an argument about how much salt it needed, and because he had been drinking Sazeracs for several hours he poured salt in to make his point. It was like brine, but we pretended it was fine. Throwing the chicken on the floor, or the artichoke. Buying crab boil. Discussing endlessly the possibilities of an artichoke-and-oyster casserole. After I married he still called me up occasionally for recipes.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

the last book I ever read (South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion, excerpt one)

from South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion:

In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology. The place is physically dark, dark like the negative of a photograph, dark like an X-ray: the atmosphere absorbs its own light, never reflects light but sucks it in until random objects glow with a morbid luminescence. The crypts above ground dominate certain vistas. In the hypnotic liquidity of the atmosphere all motion slows into choreography, all people on the street move as if suspended in a precarious emulsion, and there seems only a technical distinction between the quick and the dead.

Friday, April 21, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt seven)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

“Subterranean waters,” the doctor said, waving his fork.

“Nonsense. Does Mrs. Dudley do all your cooking? The asparagus is more than passable. Arthur, let that young man help you to asparagus.”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt six)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

“I don’t understand.” Theodora threw down her pencil in exasperation. “Do you always go where you’re not wanted?”

Eleanor smiled placidly. “I’ve never been wanted anywhere,” she said.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt five)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

It had found them. Since Eleanor would not open the door, it was going to make its own way in. Eleanor said aloud, “Now I know why people scream, because I think I’m going to,” and Theodora said, “I will if you will,” and laughed, so that Eleanor turned quickly back to the bed and they held each other, listening in silence. Little pattings came from around the doorframe, small seeking sounds, feeling the edges of the door, trying to sneak a way in. The doorknob was fondled, and Eleanor, whispering, asked, “Is it locked?” and Theodora nodded and then, wide-eyed, turned to stare at the connecting bathroom door. “Mine’s locked too,” Eleanor said against her ear, and Theodora closed her eyes in relief. The little sticky sounds moved on around the doorframe and then, as though a fury caught whatever was outside, the crashing came again, and Eleanor and Theodora saw the wood of the door tremble and shake, and the door move against its hinges.

“You can’t get in,” Eleanor said wildly, and again there was a silence, as though the house listened with attention to her words, understanding, cynically agreeing, content to wait. A thin little giggle came, in a breath of air through the room, a little mad rising laugh, the smallest whisper of a laugh, and Eleanor heard it all up and down her back, a little gloating laugh moving past them around the house, and then she heard the doctor and Luke calling from the stairs and, mercifully, it was over.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt four)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl.

Monday, April 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt three)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

“Precisely. Have you not wondered at our extreme difficulty in finding our way around? An ordinary house would not have had the four of us in such confusion for so long, and yet time after time we choose the wrong doors, the room we want eludes us. Even I have had my troubles.” He sighed and nodded. “I daresay,” he went on, “that old Hugh Crain expected that someday Hill House might become a showplace, like the Winchester House in California or the many octagon houses; he designed Hill House himself, remember, and, I have told you before, he was a strange man. Every angle”—and the doctor gestured toward the doorway—“every angle is slightly wrong. Hugh Crain must have detested other people and their sensible squared-away houses, because he made his house to suit his mind. Angles which you assume are the right angles you are accustomed to, and have every right to expect are true, are actually a fraction of a degree off in one direction or another. I am sure, for instance, that you believe that the stairs you are sitting on are level, because you are not prepared for stairs which are not level—“

They moved uneasily, and Theodora put out a quick hand to take hold of the balustrade, as though she felt she might be falling.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt two)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends. This was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking. She could nto remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair. Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words. Her name had turned up on Dr. Montague’s list because one day, when she was twelve years old and her sister was eighteen, and their father had been dead for not quite a month, showers of stones had fallen on their house, without any warning or any indication of purpose or reason, dropping from the ceilings, rolling loudly down the walls, breaking windows and pattering maddeningly on the roof. The stones continued intermittently for three days, during which time Eleanor and her sister were less unnerved by the stones than by the neighbors and sightseers who gathered daily outside the front door, and by their mother’s blind, hysterical insistence that all of this was due to malicious, backbiting people on the block who had had it in for her ever since she came. After three days Eleanor and her sister were removed to the house of a friend, and the stones stopped falling, nor did they ever return, although Eleanor and her sister and her mother went back to living in the house, and the feud with the entire neighborhood was never ended. The story had been forgotten by everyone except the people Dr. Montague consulted; it had certainly been forgotten by Eleanor and her sister, each of whom had supposed at the time that the other was responsible.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, excerpt one)

from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

Dr. Montague’s intentions with regard to Hill House derived from the methods of the intrepid nineteenth-century ghost hunters; he was going to go and live in Hill House and see what happened there. It was his intention, at first, to follow the example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today; Dr. Montague was forced to engage assistants. Perhaps the leisurely ways of Victorian life lent themselves more agreeably to the devices of psychic investigation, or perhaps the painstaking documentation of phenomena has largely gone out as a means of determining actuality; at any rate, Dr. Montague had not only to engage assistants but to search for them.

Friday, April 14, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt fourteen)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

The afternoon of August 8, 1965, was warm and pleasant. Shirley went upstairs to take her customary nap after lunch. Several hours later, Stanley tried to rouse her and found that he could not. In fear, he called out for Sarah. “I can’t wake your mother,” he said in a tone she had never heard before. Madly, he held a mirror in front of Shirley’s nose and mouth to see if it would fog. “Dad, I think she’s dead,” Sarah told him.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt thirteen)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

The winter of 1962-63 was unusually cold, with temperatures well below zero—“so terrible that even the vermonters are talking about it,” Shirley wrote. In two days there were thirty inches of snow. Aside from her birthday and Christmas, which both passed quietly, the Hymans did almost no entertaining. Shirley stayed inside. Something new and unpleasant had begun to happen every time she tried to leave the house. She would begin to shake, her legs would give way, and everything would start spinning. If she did not go inside right away, she feared passing out. Her nightmares returned, stranger than ever; she paced the floor in the dark, crying. She suffered from delusions that even she recognized were irrational: she was afraid to go into the post office, for instance, because she believed the postmaster thought she was crazy. When Stanley tried to reassure her that it wasn’t true, she lashed out at him. Eventually her anxiety was no longer associated only with leaving the house: anything could trigger a panic attack, even the phone ringing. Dr. Durand prescribed tranquilizers, which she took around the clock, but “all they did was keep me kind of stupid but still frightened all the time.” She was experiencing, she later realized, “a classic case of acute anxiety.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt twelve)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Soon after she began writing The Bird’s Nest, in late 1952 or early 1953, Jackson began to feel “a sudden and unusual general fear . . . applied to all things: security, work, general health.” She started drinking heavily, more than ever before. Like the fictional Elizabeth, she began to suffer from headaches that often came on very suddenly. She felt extreme hunger and exhaustion, but also a total loss of interest in either eating or sleeping. More than anything else, she felt irresistibly tempted to give up writing the book, convinced she could find no other relief from her “symptoms,” as she called them. After finishing a very rough draft of the first two sections, she took a break from the novel over the summer, writing some lighter stories and enjoying the success of Savages. But once she went back to it, after the move to 66 Main Street, the trouble started up again, worse than before.

Jackson called it “nervous hysteria”: she had crying jags, fits of temper, nightmares, “extravagant worries.” Some of it, she thought, could be explained by her anxiety over whether she and Hyman could afford the new house, as well as the stress of moving. There was also the news, that fall, of the sudden death of Dylan Thomas. After an alcoholic binge in New York, where he had come for another reading tour arranged by John Malcolm Brinnin, the poet died at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. After their encounter more than threeyears earlier, Shirley had not seen him again, but he continued to figure powerfully in her imagination. “A Visit,” dedicated to him, had recently appeared in print.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt eleven)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

It took time for Jackson to make her way into this genre: a few early attempts at New Yorker-style humor fell flat. As with her fiction, she found true inspiration after the children’s arrival. Starting with “Charles,” the story about Laurence blaming his own kindergarten misdeeds on an imaginary classmate, Jackson discovered a lucrative market for her household stories in women’s magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Home Companion, as well as in general-interest publications such as Harper’s and Collier’s. In these pieces—many of which were incorporated into Savages—Jackson essentially invented the form that has become the modern-day “mommy blog”: a humorous, chatty, intelligently observed household chronicle. Before Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957) or Erma Bombeck’s At Wit’s End (1967), she brought something of an anthropologist’s eye to her tribe of “savages,” treating “the awesome vagaries of the child mind,” as one reviewer put it, with a combination of “clinical curiosity, incredulity, adoration and outrage.” (In a line reminiscent of “The Lottery,” the same reviewer noted that “[t]his tribe lives among us; its jungle is everywhere.”) No one had written about life with children in quite this way before.

Monday, April 10, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt ten)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

As Ellison’s work on Invisible Man progressed, he continued to lean on both Hyman and Jackson for guidance. On a visit to Vermont a few years earlier, he and Hyman had jointly written an outline of the novel, then called The Invisible Man. That outline helped Ellison, under contract with the small firm Reynal and Hitchcock, get a more lucrative deal with Random House. In April 1951, Ellison wrote to his friend Albert Murray, a younger student at Tuskegee who would become a well-known literary and music critic, that he had “finished most of [Invisible Man] at Hyman’s place in Westport.” That time it was Jackson, who was looking over her page proofs for Hangsaman, who proved most helpful. “I had been worrying my ass off over transitions; really giving them more importance than was necessary, working out complicated schemes for giving them extension and so on,” Ellison wrote. “Then I read [Shirley’s] page proofs and saw how simply she was managing her transitions and how they really didn’t bother me despite their ‘and-so-and-then-and-therefore’—and then, man, I was on.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt nine)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Westport, a former colonial shipping center just west of Fairfield and east of Darien, was the least conservative of the Gold Coast towns, a center for “idea people”—writers, artists, and actors. J. D. Salinger rented a house in Westport at right around the same time as the Hymans—it had formerly belonged to F. Scott Fitzgerald—to use as a writing retreat while he finished The Catcher in the Rye. Formed in 1945, the Westport Artists Club already counted 148 members by the time the Hymans arrived, including cartoonists Helen Hokinson and Wood Cowan and sculptor James Fraser, who had designed the buffalo nickel. The Westport Country Playhouse, housed in an old cow barn and tannery, was founded in 1931 by former Broadway producers Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall (also husband and wife) and attracted such actors as Bert Lahr, Ethel Barrymore, and Paul Robeson. Thornton Wilder played the stage manager in his play Our Town there in 1946 and returned for the lead role in The Skin of Our Teeth two years later.

Despite its wealth and sophistication, Westport was a close-knit community that could be nearly as insular, in its own way, as North Bennington. The Hymans would be criticized by their neighbors for their perceived unfriendliness and lack of interest in participating in town affairs. After another resident accidentally hit Laurence with her car while he was riding his bike, causing serious injuries that necessitated a lawsuit against her insurance company, Jackson and Hyman felt that the neighborhood turned against them. As it turned out, their fears that their neighbors were gossiping about them were not unfounded. Their stay in Westport would prove to be short-lived.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt eight)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Tessie Hutchinson, the lottery’s victim, in many ways resembles Jackson: her distraction, her self-consciousness about her housekeeping, her disheveled appearance. (Just as Tessie insists on finishing her dishes before she arrives at the lottery, Jackson carefully notes that she put away her groceries before sitting down to write the story.) Female sacrifice is a motif in “The Renegade” as well: the dog is named Lady, and the story ends with Mrs. Walpole metaphorically switching places with her, imagining the sharp points of the collar closing in on her own throat. If “The Lottery” can be read as a general comment on man’s inhumanity to man, on another level it works as a parable of the ways in which women are forced to sacrifice themselves: if not their lives, then their energy and their ambitions. The story is at once generic and utterly personal.

Friday, April 7, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt seven)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Reflecting on their friendship many years later, Ellison would credit Hyman as a crucial influence on his fiction. If Ellison was struggling with a project, Hyman often stepped in to encourage him. In 1943, when Ellison was about to ship out to the merchant marine, Hyman urged him first to finish “Flying Home,” the story that would be his breakthrough work. Ellison was “reluctant,” but at Hyman’s insistence, he sat down at the typewriter in the living room on Grove Street and “brought the yarn as close to completion as time permitted, then headed for the North Atlantic.” By the time he returned, it was already in print: Hyman had submitted it to Cross Section, an anthology of new writing that also published one of Jackson’s stories, “Behold the Child Among His Newborn Blisses.” For both, it was their first “appearance between hard covers,” Ellison proudly remembered. The influence flowed both ways: Ellison also read Jackson’s and Hyman’s drafts and offered comments. Two years later, when the opening to Invisible Man came to Ellison at a friend’s farm in Vermont, he wrote to Hyman immediately to share both his excitement and his anxiety. “This section of the novel is going very well—though God only knows what the hell it’s all about. Of one thing I’m sure, any close symbolic analysis of it [a joking reference to Burke] will reveal how completely crazy I am.” Over the course of his long and often painful effort to write the novel, Ellison would regularly call upon Hyman for guidance, at one point saying that he was “invaluable” during the process. Rampersad and other have suggested that absent Hyman’s influence and encouragement, Ellison might not have written Invisible Man.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt six)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

In the Hyman household, intellectual curiosity and creativity were cultivated and nurtured. There was singing around the piano and dancing in the living room and art projects at the kitchen table: Shirley’s old clothespin dolls even made a reappearance. One year, dismayed to discover the children’s lack of familiarity with the Bible, Shirley and Stanley read from it every night at the dinner table. Shirley also read her favorite books aloud to the children at bedtime: the Oz series, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (which she preferred to The Lord of the Rings), fairy tales. At age nine, Laurence was given a set of oil paints; at twelve, he took up jazz trumpet. By the time he was fourteen, he was performing in nightclubs with professional musicians, a pursuit Shirley and Stanley supported and encouraged. For years, the family played poker together on Sunday afternoons, whether the children wanted to or not. “Shut up and deal,” Stanley would growl.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt five)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

On September 1, as German troops were beginning their ill-fated advance on Stalingrad, Jackson and Hyman traded their cabin in the woods for a brick row house at the top of a hill in Woodside, Queens, then known as “the borough of homes.” The extension of the subway in 1918 had generated a housing boom, and the quiet streets were lined with new semidetached English-style houses with gardens in the front and the rear. Their new house was just around the corner from Jesse and Irene Lurie, who were soon to have a baby of their own, and a short subway commute to Manhattan. Their experiment in country living was over—for now.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt four)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Still, for a writer there was probably no better place to be. E. E. Cummings was still living in his studio on Patchin Place; Dawn Powell, who wrote a series of novels set in the Village, was another longtime resident. Mary McCarthy lived there briefly in 1936 and 1937, after her divorce from her first husband, enthusiastically embracing the life of a single girl in the city (complete with tiny studio apartment) before settling down temporarily with Philip Rahv and then Edmund Wilson. (Of a dinner party at which whe met Lillian Hellman for the first time, she recalled that “[t]he guests at those dinners were mostly Stalinists, which was what smart, successful people in that New York world were.”) Delmore Schwartz would return in 1945, declaring that it was “1919 all over again.” Partisan Review made its headquarters on Astor Place; Meyer Schapiro lectured on art at the New School for Social Research on West Twelfth Street; and the headquarters of the Boni Brothers, who published Upton Sinclair, D. H. Lawrence, and Thornton Wilder, were on Fifth Avenue near Thirteenth Street. “The city had never looked so bright and frisky before,” commented Alfred Kazin. Jackson’s story “The Villager,” written in 1944, sums up the modd: “When she was twenty-three she had come to New York from a small town upstate because she wanted to be a dancer, and because everyone who wanted to study dancing or sculpture or bookbinding had come to Greenwich Village then.”

Monday, April 3, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt three)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

More problematic was Stanley’s persistent interest in other women, which he saw no reason to hide. Dowson’s poem about a man who confesses infidelity even as he pines for his lost love—“I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion!”—became their personal shorthand. (“My fashion has been acting up again,” Stanley would sometimes say, addressing Shirley as “Cynara,” after he had been out with another woman.) As much as he loved Shirley—and he was already deeply in love with her—Stanley, embracing a self-styled polyamorous philosophy, saw no reason to limit himself to a single woman. He believed he held the moral high ground: open marriage was a Communist principle. His hero John Reed—Stanley recommended Ten Days That Shook the World, Reed’s eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, to anyone who would listen—was notorious for his affairs. Shirley, too, was welcome to go out with whomever she liked, he asserted rather disingenuously. She would take him up on it only once.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt two)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Stanley had hoped to write fiction himself, but once he met Shirley, he realized that he could not compete. Stanley “wrote painfully, it was a tedious, forced thing, whereas she—the thing flowed like you turned on a faucet,” said June Mirken, Stanley’s old friend from elementary school, who graduated a year behind him and Shirley at Syracuse. “He talked a lot but she wrote better,” another of their college acquaintances recalled. Instead, he would be the cool-headed intellectual who helped Shirley realize her full creative powers and then interpreted her work to the world: a perfect symbiosis. Between them, the criticism flowed largely in one direction. Shirley would comment on Stanley’s writings, but she rarely worked them over with the same gusto he brought to hers. Throughout their marriage, he gave her detailed pages of notes on all of her novels and many of her stories. She would dedicate The Road Through the Wall, her first novel, to “Stanley, a critic.” It became their custom to present each other with leather-bound editions of their own works, inscribed “To S with love from S.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt one)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

The rise of Christian Science coincided with a general surge of interest in spiritualism and occult phenomena; Eddy herself was known to conduct séances. The Ouija board, popularized in its modern form by Baltimore inventor William Fuld, could be found in virtually every parlor across the country by the late 1910s. Even President Woodrow Wilson was a devotee: when asked in 1914whether he would be reelected, Wilson replied, “The Ouija board says yes.” Numerous people claimed to take dictation from spirits, including one woman who said she had recorded a new novel by Mark Twain, then dead for seven years. Back in the Bay Area, Contra Costa County was the site of an outbreak of “ouijamania,” in which a teenager allegedly forced her mother and sister to sit by the Ouija board day and night, believing that they were in contact with a relative who had been hit by a car several weeks earlier. Mimi, too, experimented with a Ouija board; Shirley’s brother recalled her and his mother using it with him and Shirley when they were children.

Christian Scientists are famous for their belief that illness can be cured through thought alone. “Sickness is a dream from which the patient needs to be awakened,” Eddy proclaimed. Perhaps Mimi suffered from a chronic illness or handicap that she believed Christian Science could cure. Or she may have been drawn by its message of personal empowerment, its exhortations that belief alone could suffice to improve one’s lot in life. But it could not cure her marriage. In the early 1920s, she and her husband separated, and Mimi moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. Around the same time, Maxwell began designing a new house for his daughter’s family, complete with an extra bedroom for his own wife. He died in 1927, shortly after it was finished. His granddaughter, then ten years old, would barely remember him.