I was introduced to Shirley Jackson’s work a number of years ago, and have been slowly savoring her entire works since. I’m aware I only have a limited amount of pages left, so I’m trying to make them last as long as I can.
Come Along with Me is a little curio I was unaware of until I stumbled across it in the fabulous Moe’s Books in Berkeley. It contains a few of Jackson’s lesser-known short stories, a couple of her lectures, and the start of an unfinished novel, from which the collection derives its name.
Jackson was working on Come Along with Me when she died, hence the incomplete status. Our narrator is a recently widowed, nameless lady, who settles on the alias Angela Motorman. It would appear she is embarking on a new life, and takes up residence at a guesthouse, where she sets up business as a psychic. And that’s where it ends, unfortunately. I would love to know the continued adventures of “Mrs Motorman”, as well as getting deeper into her head. But I suppose it’s fitting that everything is inconclusive, as Jackson was never one to make decisions on behalf of her reader.
There are also some real gems in the short stories section. Particular highlights are the incredibly disturbing and claustrophobic ‘The Summer People’, the devastating ‘A Day in the Jungle’, and the bizarre ‘A Visit’. All are unsettling; you are never quite sure what’s happening, and this sense of unease never really leaves you even after the story has ended.
But the real highlight of this book for me was the collected lectures. The first, ‘Experience and Fiction’, is a masterclass in how to write an intriguing short story, by analyzing the various approaches one could take to a story. I’m continually blown away by Jackson’s intelligence and wit.
My absolutely favorite section was ‘Biography of a Story’, which was a lecture Jackson gave outlining the backlash she received following her incomparable short story, ‘The Lottery’. If you’ve never read the story, please do not read any further until you do so. You can listen to it here. It won’t take long and you can thank me later.
The story, published by The New Yorker in 1948, is about a village that performs a yearly human sacrifice so their crops don’t fail. Although pretty dark, by today’s standards the concept is relatively tame. But in 1948, this was revolutionary stuff, and people went ABSOLUTELY NUTS. The lecture is basically Jackson taking us through the various letters she received following publication, such as “Will you please tell me the locale and the year of the custom?”, “What happened to the paragraph that tells us what the devil is going on?”, and “Tell Miss Jackson to stay out of Canada”. It’s basically a very early version of an online comments section, and it’s hilarious. It drove home just what an extraordinary talent Jackson was, and how she did not give a shit about what people thought of her, or her work. And rightly so; she was an absolute genius.