Shirley Jackson’s The Summer People

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk, I discuss one of Shirley Jackson’s lesser-known works, The Summer People. This story is classic Jackson, complete with angry villagers, outsiders and a house that just may be a couple’s undoing.

Of course, it’s impossible discuss Shirley Jackson’s work without talking about the author herself. Her relationship with her mother, her troubled marriage, her insecurities and addictions, her internal conflict over her dual roles as both homemaker and dark fiction writer-she channeled these struggles into the characters and themes that drive her narratives.

Jackson wrote in a style that, on the surface, is rather simple; her prose is clear and concise, yet at times disarmingly poetic. Until recently she was underrated as a writer in part because much of her work was classified as horror, a less esteemed genre than literary fiction. Jackson’s brilliance, however, is most evident in her ability to shed light on the darkness and frailty that lie within us all. Her protagonists are as disturbed as her angry villagers. Her settings are far less haunted than the people who inhabit them. Her characters behave in alarming and, at times, wicked ways, and yet you can’t help but hope they will be okay in the end…and usually they are not. In fact, in Jackson’s world, nothing is okay. It is a hostile place that is inhabited by lonely people who stand on the precipice of madness or death. She holds a mirror to her readers, reflecting our fears about ourselves and the communities in which we live. Despite this, her work is immensely entertaining to read. Jackson has fun placing her characters in peril, and you can be sure it gave her great pleasure to shake up her readers and make us uncomfortable. I would argue that if you don’t feel unsettled after reading Jackson, you haven’t enjoyed the full experience.

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