The Gift

May 6, 2015

Sometimes you just get lucky.

I believe that.

About six months ago I started this  column, writing about books I’d come to love dearly and early on, I praised Shirley Jackson, a writer that almost seemed forgotten.  My mother had loved her work and introduced me to it at an early age.  That was lucky because, in those days, Jackson’s work (with the exception of one story) wasn’t reprinted.  At that time, Jackson wasn’t often remembered in literary circles and when she was the discussions were limited to her supernatural or psychologically disturbing tales.   The author also wrote a lot of well-crafted stories about family life but these were given less weight because a)they were funny or b) they were “chick lit.”   Of all of her works, these looked like they had the least chance of getting back into print.

Except, now they are.

Ms. Jackson’s books about life with one husband, one sheep dog, four children, 10,000 books and innumerable cats are back in print.  Life Among the Savages follows two parents and their two young children from a New York City apartment to an old Vermont house with Pillars in the Front and ends with the arrival of the fourth child, Barry.  Raising Demons sees the family of six move into their last home (a huge house that had been cut up into apartments) and the older children move toward adolescence through the eyes of the somewhat overwhelmed and sharp-eyed mother.  Her dry sense of humor about the absurdities of life carries everything along without straying near sentimentality, a quality few domestic writers can claim.  That kind of writing is a gift.  Luckily, that’s not the only present we’ve got coming.

Let Me Tell You is due to be released late this summer and of course, I’ve ordered my copy.  The collection comes from previously unpublished essays that were edited by two of her children, Laurence Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt.  Early reviews (oh, those lucky critics who have read this already) promise a varied collection that showcases Ms. Jackson’s wonderful subversive humor and her clean-as-a-whistle prose.  The book comes out on August 4th.  I’d better take vacation that day.  I won’t be worth shooting until I’ve read this book.

Like I said, I was born lucky.  A newly invented product saved me when I was an infant and, despite scores of mistakes, I’ve avoided a lot of pitfalls and found an awful lot of friends.  Oh, and my mother let me read the work of Shirley Jackson.  Actually, that was more of a gift.

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