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Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and…
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Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings

by Shirley Jackson

Other authors: Sarah Hyman Dewitt (Editor), Ruth Franklin (Foreword), Laurence Jackson Hyman (Editor)

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I love Shirley Jackson. Consistent with shared American school experience, my first introduction to Jackson was "The Lottery" on my school reading list. Unfortunately, I might have been in a "white British writer canon" phase (ugh. I've given myself all the requisite lectures, trust me.) which led me to push Jackson off the radar. Years later, I married a film snob obsessed with The Haunting, which led me back to Jackson. (He hosts a book/film club, and I always push hard for a discussion of The Haunting of Hill House and viewing of the film.) This collection of 50 plus previously unpublished pieces--some of which are unfinished--showcase the drastically different modes of writing from her tall tales of small-town psychology to comic family tableau to line drawings that deliver to the reader a searing view into Jackson's vulnerability as a writer, mother, and wife. Jackson weaves a spell from your nightstand. Just as she intended. ( )
  Jan.Coco.Day | May 28, 2017 |
I expected to like this a lot more than I did. The insight into Jackson's domestic life was interesting, and gives me hope that my own writing career will one day progress. However, I know and love Jackson primarily as the writer of The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and the volume is slim on the haunting stories for which she is now loved. The latter half of the book made me feel that I was reading an extended authorial version of a People magazine spread - "Writers! They're just like us!" She had kids! She argued with them about teenage things! She wished she felt as important as her husband! - actually that last one was surprising, since she is certainly more well known now. Apparently, he was sort of a Stanley Fish type in his day - a well-known book critic. I'll probably dip into this book more as the years go by, but like many posthumous collections, most of the stories in this book are perhaps most enthralling (and publishable) now, precisely because the creator is no longer with us. ( )
  AnnieHidalgo | Sep 4, 2016 |
Fiction:

Paranoia -
On his way home to give his wife a birthday gift, a man develops the disturbing suspicion that he's being followed... Remember what they say about paranoia: sometimes they are actually out to get you.

Still Life With Teapot and Students -
A faculty wife confronts two of her husband's students, revealing a disturbing dynamic.

The Arabian Nights -
When Clark Gable arrives at the nightclub where a girl is celebrating her twelfth birthday with her family, the invisible flaws in her parents' relationship are revealed. The story also captures one of the most annoying aspects of being a child.

Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons -
An Extremely Put-Upon housewife paints herself into a miserable corner, with her insistence on self-martyrdom and the inflexibility of her judgments.
The title, of course, refers both to Spenser's allegorical 'Faerie Queen' and the contrast with 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' In the allegory here, the whole town is whisked off to a 'fairyland' of life and fun, which Mrs. Spencer, through her own doing, is unable to enter.

It Isn't the Money I Mind -
This one has a very authentic feel to it - I wouldn't be surprised is Jackson encountered someone very similar to the man in this story, who feels the need to tell a stranger a story about his little girl. I saw the 'twist' coming, though... maybe 'cause I've encountered too many peculiar people like this in my time.

Company For Dinner -
Ooh, I loved this one. Commentary on 'interchangeable' and uniform society, similar to that one terrifying scene in 'A Wrinkle in Time' or 'Stepford Wives.'

I Cannot Sing the Old Songs -
This captures the dynamic of an argument between an adult daughter and her judgmental parents perfectly, but it feels more like a fragment or an exercise than a completed story, to me.

The New Maid -
Mary Poppins-like, the new maid does some deft social engineering in the lives of one family.

French is the Mark of a Lady -
Arriving to visit an old friend, a woman encounters the friend's precocious young daughter, and has a somewhat peculiar conversation.

Gaudeamus Igitur -
Another piece that feels like a possibly-autobiographical fragment. After graduating college, the narrator visits a former sorority sister who married one of their professors. The dynamics are strained.
The title refers to a "graduation hymn," about enjoying life while one is young, because the joys of youth don't last forever.

The Lie -
Pinpointing a lie she told in high school as the fulcrum on which her life turned and all started to go bad, a woman goes back to her hometown to find the girl she wronged and "put it right." It's hardly a spoiler to say that her logic may have been flawed.

She Says the Damnedest Things -
I would've put this one in the 'humor' section! A super-short piece wryly noting how people's perceptions of others differ.
It reminded me of a story my mom told me recently. At her gallery opening, where my mother was showing some close-up nature photography, an elderly woman came up to her and said, "Oh, these are so beautiful! Where on earth did you take these?" When my mom told her they were all taken locally, at a certain location, the woman said, "Oh really? I was there not too long ago. There was some crazy lady taking pictures of the rocks!" "I think that may have been me."

Remembrance of Things Past -
Another send-up of 'traditional' relationships, in this vignette featuring a man who forgets his wife's name.

Let Me Tell You -
Unfinished story. The 'adventures' of two spoiled rich girls who make a game out of being nasty.

Bulletin -
Fragments of 'papers' sent back from the 22nd century by an academic time-travel expedition. A wry commentary on the significance and value we place on random information.

Family Treasures -
There's a kleptomaniac in the girls' dormitory...

Showdown -
Golly gee, but something weird is going on in the town of Mansfield, on one fine June day of 1932.

The Trouble With My Husband -
During a visit, the drunken wife of a successful artist makes things decidedly uncomfortable, with her unasked-for confidences.

Six AM Is the Hour -
Gambling with the gods is probably a really bad idea, as we learn in this tale. A nice feeling of imminent apocalypse.

Root of Evil -
What would you think if you saw an ad offering 'free money'? Would you bother to respond, or assume it was some kind of scam?
Reminds me of that video that's been going around the Internet where people are offered their choice: candy bar or silver bar.

The Bridge Game -
One middle-aged couple, visiting another, brings their college-aged daughter, uninvited. Another exploration of social dynamics.

The Man In The Woods -
Surreal fantasy of a young man, following a strange compulsion, who wanders into the woods, and, accompanied by a cat, stumbles (or is drawn) into a strange and ancient ritual. Beautifully resonant.

Essays:

Autobiographical Musing -
"I loathe writing autobiographical material because if it's dull no one should have to read it anyway, and if it's interesting I should be using it for a story." Nonetheless, Jackson does a small bit of it here.

A Garland of Garlands -
Hilarious, and only slightly show-off-y complaint about the heartrending tribulations of being married to an invidious book critic.

Hex Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar -
Jackson acquired a copy of this 1820 book of folk remedies, and apparently, was tickled pink. [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/695193.Pow_Wows_or_Long_Lost_Friend_a_Collection_of_Myste​]

Clowns -
Musing on the appeal of clowns. Strangely, the piece doesn't consider the fact that many people don't like clowns.

A Vroom for Dr. Seuss -
An appreciation of Dr. Seuss, whom Jackson sees as a bright spot in a sea of pablum intended for children.

Notes on an Unfashionable Novelist -
In which Jackson explains her appreciation for the 18th-century author Samuel Richardson, and fails to convince me that I should share that appreciation.

Private Showing -
The author's reaction to seeing her work translated to the 'big screen.'

Good Old House -
This one's in the 'essays' section, but I'm going to take it as fiction, seeing as it's a haunted house/ghostly visitation story. True or not, however, it's beautifully charming. And exactly how I'd feel about it, if I lived in a haunted house.

The Play's the Thing -
Jackson speaks about the experience of writing a play for her children, ('The Bad Children') and how the project 'got away from her,' in a way.

The Ghosts of Loiret -
Another piece that meshes autobiography and ghostly happenings in a seamless and simply delightful way. I wish I had that collection of picture-postcards...

Well? -
A brief interaction, not very memorable.

Early Stories:

The Sorcerer's Apprentice -
A schoolteacher is visited by an unbelievably bratty neighbor child, and doesn't handle the situation at all well.

Period Piece -
Wealth has allowed one very disturbed woman to perfect the art of avoidance, refusing to engage with or even think about anything even mildly unpleasant - let alone important issues.

4-F Party -
After the draft, 8 women to one man are left at 'home.' Unfortunately, the 'one man' here is a tone-deaf, insensitive jerk.

The Paradise -
A young soldier, on home on furlough, finds his equally young wife at a bar with another man. The piece does an excellent job of drawing a complex relationship in just a few pages, but my main takeaway is that absolutely no one should be married at 17.

Homecoming -
The mundane tasks of preparing for a soldier husband's return after a long absence are the bulk of this piece - but the undercurrent of unsure nervousness is exquisitely done.

Daughter, Come Home -
Rather a sad scene, in which a drunk, elderly man approaches two young women drinking in a bar. What he has to say to them isn't quite what they expect.

As High As the Sky -
Another piece describing the toll that war can take on normal family relationships, as a father returns to meet his family, including the child who's only ever seen his photograph.

Murder on Miss Lederer's Birthday -
Two middle-aged roommates have an edifying birthday afternoon planned, with a visit to a museum, and the theatre. However, they get sidetracked by coffee, and the tabloid newspapers. Quite a funny commentary on human nature.

Humor:

Here I am, Washing Dishes Again -
I like my kitchen and all, but I don't like it quite as much as Shirley Jackson liked hers. And I've never anthropomorphized my kitchen implements to quite this degree, or missed my sink while away from home. I still enjoyed this, though!

In Praise of Dinner Table Silence -
This one reminded me how very glad I am that I have chosen not to have children. That's not quite what the author wanted the reader to take away, but there you have it.

Questions I Wish I'd Never Asked -
More on the trials and tribulations of dealing with a family full of children who are all up to inexplicable activities.

Mother, Honestly! -
Here, the specific tribulations of having a 12-year-old daughter are addressed.

How to Enjoy a Family Quarrel -
God, I hate family life! A humorous look at typical arguments, the likes of which would make me bash my head into a wall, not laugh.

The Pleasures and Perils of Dining Out with Children -
I agree, children should probably only be taken out to restaurants if the house has burned down or a helicopter has crashed.

Out of the Mouths of Babes -
On 'the crazy things kids say', and gossip.

The Real Me -
A brief authorial autobiography - written as if the author is secretly a witch.

On Girls of 13 -
Earlier, we heard about the problems with having a 12-year-old daughter. Things don't get any better when they turn 13, apparently.

What I Want to Know is, What Do Other People Cook With? -
Do you cook with a four-tined 5-inch long fork? I don't, and have never seen such an item (it's not a table fork). Jackson would not be surprised by my mystification, but this implement was very important to her.

Lectures on Writing:

About the End of the World -
Memory of Delusion -
On Fans and Fan Mail -
How I Write -
Garlic in Fiction -

As the section title states, these are 5 brief pieces by Jackson on her writing, covering her mental processes, technical aspects, inspirations and practicalities. The reader finishes the book feeling that we know Shirley Jackson quite well...


Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for allowing me insight into the more obscure writings of this justifiably acclaimed author. As alwasy, my opinions are solely my own.
( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
My favorite short story written by anyone used to be Shirley Jackson's "Afternoon in Linen," a story first published in The New Yorker and then anthologized in The Lottery and Other Stories.

After reading Let Me Tell You, though, I have a new favorite — "The Arabian Nights," which is similar to "Afternoon in Linen" thematically but somewhat longer and even more poignant. ("Afternoon in Linen" itself consumes only about 2½ to 3 pages, as I recall, in the Library of American edition of Shirley Jackson.)

One other story in Let Me Tell You is also impressive — "Paranoia," which very much reminds me of "The Daemon Lover," although "The Daemon Lover" is the better of the two.

Let Me Tell You also includes a few other stories of interest, including some of Jackson's "suburban housewife" stories in the genre later popularized by Erma Bombeck, but as a whole Let Me Tell You demonstrates that there is often a reason why authors did not publish work that their children and literary executors subsequently anthologize posthumously.

So you might want to buy Let Me Tell You if you are an especial fan of Jackson and are looking for completeness. Or you might otherwise borrow it from a library, especially to read "The Arabian Nights" and "Paranoia." But unless you are looking to complete a Jackson collection, you will probably prefer a library loan over purchasing. In any event, a noob's first Jackson "buy" should definitely be the LoA edition, which includes The Lottery and Other Stories and some other unpublished or uncollected stories, along with the novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I'm giving Let Me Tell You 4**** for the sake of "The Arabian Nights" above all else, along with its contribution to "Jackson completeness," but it definitely wouldn't be a purchase for a first-time Jackson reader. ( )
1 vote CurrerBell | Nov 9, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
So frustrating to have not received my copy from the publisher yet. It seems the reviewer copies are coming slower and slower. I ended up just getting it from the library. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson. She's the original Stephen King. This compilation showcases a different side of her. Although the short stories were not horror per say they still were pretty creepy. This book also showed her domestic side as a mother with humorous essays about her kids. I knew she had creepy down but I didn't know she a forerunner of Erma Bombeck. It's funny to read how raising teenagers today is pretty much the same as it was in the 1950's. Apparently teenagers have always been greedy, demanding, and unwilling to take their parents advice. Also included are some of her sketches and her musings on her writing process. As you would expect she "ghost writes" in her sleep and she thinks her house is haunted. Shirley's children put this book together from her undiscovered writing that had been donated top the Library of Congress after her death. It was clearly a labor of love and if the only thing you know about Shirley Jackson is The Lottery then you should check this out. ( )
1 vote arielfl | Sep 26, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shirley Jacksonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dewitt, Sarah HymanEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franklin, RuthForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hyman, Laurence JacksonEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Margaret stood all alone at her first witch-burning. She had on her new blue cap and her sister's shawl, and she stood by herself, waiting. She had long ago given up on finding her sister and brother-in-law in the crowd, and was now content to watch alone. She felt a very pleasant fear and a crying excitement over the burning; she had lived all her life in the country and now, staying with her sister in the city, she was being introduced to the customs of society. - Shirley Jackson
Dedication
To the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Shirley Hardie Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman:
Miles Biggs Hyman, Gretchen Anne Cardinal Hyman, Shiloh Alexis Webster Elias, Maxwell Dervin Schnurer, Bodie Jackson Hyman, Millie Noyes Stephenson, Ethan Lazarus Webster Elias, Rubin Santiago Elias, Jamilah Sophia Parker, Nathaniel Nicholas Jackson Hyman, Juliette Mai Theresa Hyman, Charlotte Rose Josepha Corinne Hyman, Eliot Augustin Stanley Hyman, Rowan Newbold Stephenson, Freya Helen Stephenson, Indie Sphere Hyman, Sophie Joy Hyman and Thomas Achita Hyman.
First words
Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner.
Quotations
I have never liked the theory that poltergeists only come into houses where there are children, because I think it is simply too much for any one house to have poltergeists and children.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812997662, Hardcover)

From the renowned author of “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House, a spectacular new volume of previously unpublished and uncollected stories, essays, and other writings.
 
Shirley Jackson is one of the most important American writers of the last hundred years. Since her death in 1965, her place in the landscape of twentieth-century fiction has grown only more exalted.
 
As we approach the centenary of her birth comes this astonishing compilation of fifty-six pieces—more than forty of which have never been published before. Two of Jackson’s children co-edited this volume, culling through the vast archives of their mother’s papers at the Library of Congress, selecting only the very best for inclusion.
 
Let Me Tell You brings together the deliciously eerie short stories Jackson is best known for, along with frank, inspiring lectures on writing; comic essays about her large, boisterous family; and whimsical drawings. Jackson’s landscape here is most frequently domestic: dinner parties and bridge, household budgets and homeward-bound commutes, children’s games and neighborly gossip. But this familiar setting is also her most subversive: She wields humor, terror, and the uncanny to explore the real challenges of marriage, parenting, and community—the pressure of social norms, the veins of distrust in love, the constant lack of time and space.
 
For the first time, this collection showcases Shirley Jackson’s radically different modes of writing side by side. Together they show her to be a magnificent storyteller, a sharp, sly humorist, and a powerful feminist.
 
This volume includes a Foreword by the celebrated literary critic and Jackson biographer Ruth Franklin.

Advance praise for Let Me Tell You
 
“A master of uncanny suspense, Jackson wrote sentences that crept up on the reader, knife in hand. Throughout these previously unpublished pieces, whether short stories about Main Street murders or Jackson’s description of her own eerie writing process (sleepwalking and ghosts helped), the author’s mordant wit and nuanced prose are often shiver-inducing.”New York

“With the to-the-second pacing of a Twilight Zone episode, . . . [Jackson’s] stories never fail to deliver. . . . It doesn’t get much better than this.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Some things never change: Jackson’s wry observations about keeping house in the 1950s (collected here along with essays and stories) are as spot-on today as they were when she wrote them.”Good Housekeeping

“Jackson, an inspiration to writers from Stephen King to Joyce Carol Oates, dared to look on the dark side and imagine the unimaginable, as demonstrated in this volume of her uncollected and unpublished work.”Publishers Weekly
 
“Remember the chilling excitement of reading Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ for the first time? You’ll have that same experience over and over again with this new collection.”Library Journal
 
Praise for Shirley Jackson
 
“[Shirley Jackson’s] work exerts an enduring spell.”—Joyce Carol Oates
 
“Shirley Jackson’s stories are among the most terrifying ever written.”—Donna Tartt
 
“An amazing writer . . .  If you haven’t read [her] you have missed out on something marvelous.”—Neil Gaiman

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 03 Jul 2015 11:45:50 -0400)

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