Let Me Tell You – Shirley Jackson Review

let-me-tell-you-shirley-jacksonReleased: July 2015

Late author Shirley Jackson has been hailed as one of the greatest American short story writers of the 20th century. Thanks to her reputation for mastering the horror and gothic genres, her work has never been out of print. Let Me Tell You is a charming collection of Jackson’s previously unpublished short stories, reviews and autobiographical essays compiled by two of her children.

Jackson was evidently a multi-faceted writer with a charismatic personality. However, the first section of short stories fails to deliver, several of them being unremarkable and anti-climactic. Some offer social commentary, which makes them moderately interesting. Mrs Spencer and the Oberons is about a hypocritical middle-class woman who neglects the important things in life because of her obsession with climbing the social ladder. She doesn’t realise how superficial she is, and after a spooky experience she feels isolated.

The Trouble with my Husband features Mrs Smallwood’s attempts to talk to her friend Mrs James about her unhappiness. She feels resentment towards her husband, as he has the freedom to be an artist and a scholar because he isn’t held back by domestic responsibilities. Here, Jackson reveals the hardships of marriage, and Mrs James’ eagerness to change the subject highlights people’s unwillingness to stray from the norm. The initial chunk of the book allows us to reflect on the gender roles of the time, as well as the shallowness of many middle-class Americans in the mid-20th century.

The segment dedicated to World War 2 is much more compelling. In Period Piece, a young man explains to his mother that he doesn’t want to join the army, but she refuses to hear of guns, shell shock and death. She revels at the idea of having a “heroic” son fighting in the war rather than listening to his fears. His mother’s ignorance is a dig at people in society who trivialised and idealised warfare instead of coming to terms with the true terrors soldiers had to face. The Paradise is another poignant piece which touches on people rushing into marriage before the war and subsequently feeling trapped in stale relationships.

Homecoming and As High as the Sky are two of the most striking items in the volume. In Homecoming, a woman is busy preparing for her husband’s return from battle and suddenly realises she feels like a different person in his absence. Her new way of life has strengthened her sense of personal identity and she has grown accustomed to her husband being elsewhere. Meanwhile, As High As The Sky is a touching tale about a family waiting for a loved one to travel home from combat, and when he finally arrives, his children don’t recognise him because he’s been away for so long. These emotive stories impressively observe a range of effects the war had on families and also document some women’s perspectives on war.

Jackson’s autobiographical musings are equally fascinating to read. These amusing and honest writings focus on her hectic home life and are more entertaining than some of her fictional work. How to Enjoy a Family Quarrel, Questions I Wish I’d Never Asked and Mother, Honestly! humorously chronicle the continual challenges of motherhood. These anecdotes divulge the difficulties of juggling the roles of mother, wife and professional writer and show Jackson at her very best and most relaxed.

Sadly, Let Me Tell You is missing the horror that characterises Jackson’s famous works, but it’s by no means a dull read. This assortment of writings is a fitting tribute to a talented author.

★★★

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