Hangsaman to me is probably one of the weirdest book I have ever read. Shirley Jackson's second novel released in 1951 centers the story of one Natalie Waite, a young teenager about to enroll into college and how along the way, the way she sees the world isn't the same as how others sees it. As life in college begins to take a different turn, she walks among the living in a dream like state of awareness not knowing what is real and what isn't. Thinking she is a fiction of a life she is living, her journey crumbles not knowing what hold's her sanity and the reality we all live in.
Based on the inspiration of an unsolved disappearance of Paula Jean Welden, an american college student that disappeared in 1946, Shirley Jackson wrote a world that truly is the weird and the strangest tale of between real and fiction. It is almost towards the sense that feels like madness but then again, as a reader it does makes me wonder what does it all mean. Although the reading is quite addictive that really takes me into the mind of Natalie Waite, there is some thing not normal about her, which in a way intriguing as I read. Was it a journey of a girl that so happens at the beginning, some thing happen that changes her to such confusion of identity or was it some thing more of an experience in her college life that lead spiraling down into a dark place where only Natalie sees it? One needs to read to know.
It is a hard book to rate but I felt a 3 out of 5 star is a much more appropriate rating for me as there is so much to explore here and yet, what was the motivation of it. Was it the strangeness or the understanding of a mind that can't grasp reality? For me, its some where I know that deserves a 3 for even though it is an intriguing read, I am still trying to figure out what the title means and wanting to understand this strange book I just finished today.
Neighbours as we know it can be friendly or not. But in Shirley Jackson's The Road Through the Wall, neighbours as we know it is not what it seems to be. I had quite a number of days to read her first book, which turns out for me quite conflicted whether I like it or I don't. Never the less, I do enjoy her writings and even though there is much to talk about of its flaws, this is still a good read for me.
In Pepper Street, this neighbourhood seems 'perfect'. Neighbours greet each other, they are formal in their own way of being nice and courteous and they have their days of sharing a common hobby together like sewing. But within each household lies another reality - shallow thinkers, bullies, selfish actions and egoistical show offs. The children have secrets among one another, so are the parents. Everyone harbours lies that on the outside, they are superficial. Only one goodness remains - Caroline Desmond, a three year old little girl hardly spoken, hardly knew what is going on in this neighbourhod. There is a wall that divides one street to the next but when the bricks starts to crumble and a tragedy strikes, every thing else is an open secret and what was once consider a nice neighbourhood no longer matters.
Its a simple story really with a lot of characters being introduced in the first chapter itself. I do get a little confuse with one of the other but as I read its easier to know who is who. Still, this is a book that is difficult to rate for me. There are loop holes involve where its never explored at all. Some of these are as to 'why' the actions of certain characters of what they do were never explained completely. I had to make assumptions in order to fulfill them and its easier, as the setting does feel like the late 1940s and early 1950s. The dark part of the book are how each of them backstab each other in ways how superficial they are in front of the neighbours and the children, well, they shown their dark parts too. The writing on the other hand is, as always, pretty much how Shirley Jackson would write - clear, precise and straight to a point. What I enjoy most is how she hook me into the chapter of some of the characters, in a way development explain of who they are and then of course, reach to a point of a little surprise there that feels as if she wanted me to the ride that may keep me guessing. The ending on the other hand, is typical of her and since this is her first book in 1948, I am pretty sure her intentions of writing them is as real as her experience much like how neighbourhoods are in any place in the world.
For me, this is a hard rating to give. I like it but not that much to a point I love it. Its good writing, just not the story itself. Where else there can be much to explore here, I wonder what motivates her to write this story as her first book. I won't say it is bad or any thing but as conflicted as I am in giving a good rating, the best I can think of is a 3.5. I won't say I will recommend this but this story is much like a cautionary tale of what neighbours are (and even can be as an example for today) behind closed doors.
Before, I did mention I enjoyed reading short stories. There aren't many books with short stories today and for a long time, I heard about The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, which is one of the reasons why I had been looking high and low for this collection. There are 24 short stories altogether and to my amazement, I really enjoyed reading all of them.
The Lottery and Other Stories is divided into 5 parts and to its own theme. Here's a short summary for each of these stories:-
The Intoxicated - When a drunk meets the daughter of the host of the party. The Daemon Lover - A girl looking for her future husband on her wedding day. Like Mother Used to Make - A man cooks dinner for his guest only to be thrown out of his house. Trial By Combat - A woman's apartment been robbed by another tenant. The Villager - A woman pretend to be a buyer of things. My Life With R.H. Macy - A man works in Macys. The Witch - A man tells a story of a scary witch to a child in gruesome details. The Renegade - When an owner's dog kills a farmers chicken. After You, My Dear Alphonse - A game played between two children. Charles - A boy shares his school days with his parents about a naughty student. Afternoon in Linen - A grandmother proud of his grand daughter of a poem she wrote. Flower Garden - A wife who fell in love with a cottage meets the new owner that the neighbors do not want to be friends with. Dorothy and My Grandmother and The Sailors- A trip to a town only to avoid sailors. Colloquy - A patient shares her problems with a doctor. Elizabeth - A day of a literary agent. A Fine Old Firm - A meeting of new neighbors. The Dummy - One night show of a ventriloquist. Seven Types of Ambiguity - A couple going into a bookstore to buy books. Come Dance With Me In Ireland - When three women shown kindness to an Irish old man. Of Course - Greeting a new neighbor. Pillars of Salt An experience trip to New York to remember by a couple. Men With Their Big Shoes - When an expected married wife gets a different view about husbands from a caretaker. The Tooth - When a married woman goes on a trip to New York to extract a tooth with devastating change. The Lottery - A lottery that is held with unexpected results.
There is a small poem as a companion to The Daemon Loverwhich can be read at the end of the book. This is my first time reading a Shirley Jackson book without any expectations. I never thought I would be amazed by her writing, let alone magnetize by her way of story telling. There is some thing about her writings that really makes an interesting read. These stories, some doesn't have an ending. Its like a pick out of the blue chapter from some where. Its plot isn't interesting but by way of reading, its something else. I followed to each of their own and to each of them, they are all good (for me any way). Usually I won't enjoy a short story if it lingers in the end but this is an exception for me because, its just the way she writes that I like about. I had invested in her other books (bought almost all of them I think) and I can't wait to read them all. The Lottery and Other Stories is a book picking up because of its writing but yes, it may not be anyone's cup of tea but still, I would highly recommend it for its weirdness, twist and unexpected spin of tales of the normal that makes it quite extraordinary.