Read Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell Susan Merrell Online


Two imposing literary figures are at the center of this captivating novel: the celebrated Shirley Jackson, best known for her short story The Lottery, and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic and professor at Bennington College. When a young graduate student and his pregnant wife—Fred and Rose Nemser—move into Shirley and Stanley’s home in the fall of 1964,Two imposing literary figures are at the center of this captivating novel: the celebrated Shirley Jackson, best known for her short story The Lottery, and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic and professor at Bennington College. When a young graduate student and his pregnant wife—Fred and Rose Nemser—move into Shirley and Stanley’s home in the fall of 1964, they are quickly cast under the magnetic spell of their brilliant and proudly unconventional hosts.While Fred becomes preoccupied with his teaching schedule, Rose forms an unlikely, turbulent friendship with the troubled and unpredictable Shirley. Fascinated by the Hymans’ volatile marriage and inexplicably drawn to the darkly enigmatic author, Rose nonetheless senses something amiss—something to do with nightly unanswered phone calls and inscrutable accounts of a long-missing female student. Chillingly atmospheric and evocative of Jackson’s own classic stories, Shirley is an elegant thriller with one of America’s greatest horror writers at its hear...

Title : Shirley
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ISBN : 9780399166457
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Shirley Reviews

  • Deborah Markus
    2019-04-26 12:49

    Shirley Jackson is like Jane Austen: she only lived to write six novels and she died in her forties, leaving the tantalizing beginnings of a novel unlike any other she'd written. Both authors have shelves of their very own in my apartment, because I have multiple editions of everything they ever wrote as well as lots of books about the writers and their work.Austen is the greater writer of the two, but I have to say that Jackson is my favorite. Not just of the pair, but of all time. Austen taught me to read; Shirley Jackson made me think I could be a writer.So of course when I saw this novel about her, I was conflicted. I wasn't sure I wanted to read it, but I felt as if I had to, if only so I could tear the author a new one if she screwed up portraying my Shirley.I'm a cranky old lady when it comes to novelizations of the (fairly) recently departed. Historical figures don't bother me, because nobody can know what they were really like, so such novels are obviously purely speculation; but when, for instance, all those novels about Sylvia Plath came out, I want to have a head-smacking party. (Other people's heads, not mine.) I mean, her kids were still around when those were written, you know? And her kids were in those novels. Being potty-trained, in one instance. I'm fascinated by Plath too, but that's just rude.(Told you I was a cranky old lady on the subject.)Really, though, I'm not just being righteous for the sake of the poor wittle children. That sort of novel just strikes me as presumptuous. Where do you get off thinking you're the one who knows what it was like to be Plath? Especially when, if you know anything at all about her, you know she was ferociously prickly and proud. She would hate to be the subject of such a project.Shirley Jackson, on the other hand...given her sense of humor and her catlike self-assurance, I'm not sure she'd mind this kind of novel at all. I can imagine her ghost answering such a summons – leaning against the kitchen counter, smiling and lighting an incorporeal cigarette. Think you know me, do you? Well, by all means, have at it!Susan Scarf Merrell keeps a respectful distance from her subject, and it works. Although the book is called Shirley, the main character is entirely fictional – Rose Nemser, who is 19 and pregnant when she arrives at Jackson's house. Her husband Fred has just become a teacher at Bennington College, where Jackson's husband Stanley Edgar Hyman is a popular professor. The Nemsers are boarding with Jackson and her family until they can find a place of their own, but very quickly everyone wants the arrangement to be a more permanent one.I don't want to talk much about the plot of this novel, partly because it's a largely character-driven work and partly because it's the writing that smacked me over the head and dragged me off to its lair. I will say that anyone who knows anything about Shirley Jackson will understand immediately that this novel is set in the last year of her life, though she was only in her forties, and that Merrell really captures something about Shirley Jackson.Merrell has also clearly read the eff out of Jackson's work. She knows her stuff, and she also knows how to weave this knowledge into her writing rather than bludgeoning the reader with it. I think her only blunders are early in the novel, where she treats Stanley as a sort of biographer of his wife who spouts paragraphs about The Famous Writer:"Hill House," I murmured, thinking of the novel in my purse. It occurred to me then that I'd never seen evidence before this of how a novelist constructs a world from fog and fact.Stanley smiled approvingly but shook his head. "Shirley will show you the one everyone thinks is that house. Perhaps it is; perhaps it isn't. She claims a house in California as the source. The wise man would wager that Hill House came straight from her imagination."Stanley Edgar Hyman was a brilliantly odd duck by all accounts, but I don't think anyone talks like that. Or like this:"James Harris is folklore's proof that man has never been trustworthy. We're not alone in our preference for that ballad; it's Shirley's favorite as well. D'you know, her book The Lottery and Other Stories was supposed to be subtitled The Adventures of James Harris?"Well, not exactly. First of all, see above re nobody talks like this. And second, the book in question was subtitled The Adventures of James Harris, originally. I have a 1949 second edition, and it says it right there on the cover. The subtitle fell away in later editions, but it was there at first. Stanley would have said "used to be," not "was supposed to be."As you can see from the four stars I gave this book, these are minor quibbles. I was updating constantly as I read, because the prose is so gorgeous I had to share. Rose is haunted long before she meets Shirley Jackson, and Merrell perfectly captures this sense of a lost young woman seeking a mother only weeks before she herself becomes one.She also captures a sense of Shirley Jackson herself:She was in the kitchen, leaning against the sink with the water running. Yesterday's dress again. A cigarette trailing smoke. Her hair caught up in a limp ponytail. She was watching something out the window, staring intently....and of the time, so recent yet so unlike our own – a time when you went to the supermarket and told the clerk what you wanted and he went and got it for you, as Jackson uses to memorable effect in her story "Just Like Mother Used To Make" and her far creepier novel We Have Always Lived In The Castle:When we got to the market, Shirley had already called; the chops were cut and the string beans and potatoes had been set aside. We took a container of milk, and some apples, and a bag of farina, as she'd asked the grocer to tell us....a time when men were men, and women were cute and decorative and useless:We'd not talked about whether I would work, Fred and I. His mother never had; she was pretty and helpless and hardly knew how to open and shut the windows in their apartment. Her job at the store was little more than a social position, a way of visiting with her friends, keeping an eye on their children. Fred's father – most of the fathers I knew, my own the sole exception – would have been embarrassed if his wife had to contribute to ongoing expenses. A wife could work for something specific; if she wanted to buy new furniture she could take a job in a department store and reap the discount, without shame. Though most of the women I knew had been forced to work on and off over the years, no one ever talked about it.Merrell also understands, and expresses, the kind of work and sacrifice it takes to be a great writer:"It takes more than wanting," she said cruelly. "You don't have the language. You don't want to share. You hoard your past. You clean it up. Withhold the details that make you what you don't want to be."..."You change your stories all the time – you do, you've told me so yourself!""I clean them up to make them read better. I don't care what the hell I look like, or anybody else."And she knows how to be spooky as hell:My mother. A slivered moon night, that part of winter before the snow has fallen, cold hits the body like a shock and we are outside, my fingers frozen, and those are her limbs by the crumbling stucco wall: her arms, her legs swept into a pile by some insane and diligent gardener. Her eyes are closed; her mouth is peaceful. I want to wake up, I admit it, I'm not ashamed. Wake up. Wake up! I tell the truth, confess it here: Momma, I saved myself instead of you.That's chapter fourteen in its entirety, and it represents the tone and content of this novel perfectly.I don't know if this is the kind of novel that will make people unfamiliar with Jackson's work run out and read it, or if you should read some of Jackson's stories and novels first and then read this. I can say that if you enjoyed the understated terror of such novels as Rebecca and The Haunting of Hill House, you will enjoy this book.

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-03-30 15:11

    3.5 There is very little dialogue in this story, it is told in narrative style. Our narrator is Rose, telling her story from a 10 yr. distance. A story when she was a young wife and mother, only nineteen years old. She and her husband Fred, who has taken a job at Bennington College, move I to the house of Shirley Jackson and her husband , the professor and literary critic, Stanley Edgar Hyman.This is a book with an undercurrent of psychological suspense, the house, the family, Shirley herself, and her relationship with her husband, and Rose trying to find herself among all these literary knowledgeable people. The disappearance of co-ed Paula Weldon is at the heart of the story and provides a atmosphere of suspicion. I have always been a huge Jackson fan, and many details of her writings and the sources of some of her stories provided some of my favorite parts of this book. Her messy home life, her constant drinking and smoking, her forays into spells and witchcraft as well as her high strung personality and breakdowns. She was an amazingly prolific writer, especially when one takes into account her death at the age of 48. I actually stopped to read some of them and have now bought a few of her novels that I had never read, but were mentioned in this book.Rose and Fred become enmeshed in their house, their lives basically at the whim of the two authors. This is a coming of age story, that mixes elements of stories of Jackson's, such as Hill house, though this house in not malevolent, but seems to provide Rose with some unbelievable dreams. It is here that I feel the story loses a little of its focus, maybe too many different elements mixed together. Still this is a good story, interesting and well written, about some well known literary icons and a young woman trying to find her own path after leaving the strong influence of Jackson and her husband.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-04-03 14:10

    (3.5) Flying back from America the other week, I must have started about a dozen different books on my Nook, but none of them ‘took’ until this one. It’s a gently creepy psychological thriller that imagines a young married couple boarding with Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley Hyman, while the two men were professors at Bennington College in Vermont in 1964.Our narrator is Rose Nemser, married and pregnant at just 19. Stuck at home during the days, she observes all the inner workings of this unusual family (apparently Jackson, mother of four, was a closeted lesbian, and Stanley slept with his students) and sneaks peeks at Shirley’s work in progress, once even trying her hand at a pastiche. The dilapidated Hyman mansion reminds Rose of Jackson’s fictional Hill House: “I’d never seen evidence before this of how a novelist constructs a world from fog and fact.” Rose also makes a hesitant investigation into the disappearance of a Bennington student a few years before, and wonders how this real-life tragedy might have been translated into Shirley’s neo-Gothic fiction.I have a feeling I would have liked this more if I was more familiar with Jackson’s work (I’ve only ever read her short story “The Lottery,” assigned in high school); I might have spotted more allusions or even stylistic nods. As it is, I thought this was a pleasant suspense story, but it tailed off significantly in the last third. The relationship between Shirley and Rose – a mixture of jealousy and adulation – is the most memorable element for me. You’ll certainly be led to wonder how much of this portrait of Shirley Jackson is true to life and how much is Rose’s imagination: “Shirley herself, part creation and part creator, was wisdom and art made manifest.”[I also loved this self-declaration from Rose, a rare moment of confident expression from a woman cowed into timidity by her family circumstances: “I want to be important, to matter. I want never to worry about money. I want to be free, and happy, and comfortable in myself, and not ashamed.” Those sound like good goals for anyone.]

  • Justin Tate
    2019-04-18 15:15

    This novel thoroughly exceeded my expectations! Shirley Jackson is one of my most beloved authors and I was hesitant to have anyone treading on such sacred ground. Astonishingly, the author here is able to make Shirley an even more intriguing figure than I could ever imagine. I read some critics that think it painted Shirley too negatively, but I disagree. She is shown with a harsh side, but in a way that is captivating.The prose was gorgeous, the characterization fantastic. Fans will find numerous references to Shirley's works, but those less familiar will still find enjoyment. I do think you should read Raising Demons, Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery and Other Stories minimum before going into this though. Not because you have to, but because you will get a lot more out of it.Must read for Ms. Jackson fans.

  • Jeanette
    2019-04-18 14:04

    OMG, where do I start?This was on the library's New shelf. I picked it up totally serendipity, not having any idea or preview or trailer or GR's friends' suggestion. Nothing preconceived.And I'm sure it will make my top 5 this year. Because it is that rare, rare sample of idealism coupled with innocence, art, literary critique, emotional quotient and cerebral concepts in writing- all of that good stuff, squarely hitting the reality of individual human life fan. Worse, the real Academia fan. Far more brutal. It's also writer incestuous. And fancy me LIKING a book of fiction by a writer writing about writers. Known writers and name-dropping in their parleys of characters' dialogs by these famous "home-owners"- myriads of other writers in contrast and comparison. As if I were in the Literary Comparative Studies groups that I so despise in an endless marathon discussion. Yes, I do despise that exact parsing. Half the time it ruins the pleasure in any book for me. But despite all those negatives (for me but possibly not for you)- this book comes closest to the time and the feel of Feminism base crux. Freidan was wrong. Stanley is right. It's far, far more complex than that Mystique. Read this book. A different outlook needed more so now, in this exact era, when American woman actually believe they need government and a whining victim voice in order to measure a progress that is positive. How absolutely ironic that it came to that point.Yes, I have read "Haunting of Hill House" and Shirley Jackson. When I was a very young woman and it was a memorable read. So I did have some concepts about her, the author. WRONG. If you are a person who loves to read the depressives, like Oates or Plath or any of 50 male authors I could put solidly in or at least close to that category- you might not "get" this book. Nor will many youth who do not know the female directions of more than 40 years ago, nor begin to understand the strengths of that era too. But for those who are also "pragmatic" women- especially you, give this one a try. Merrell, I will certainly read her again. Masterful writer of the marriage waltz and also a smidgeon/ beginning of understanding and ability to conceptualize female lifestyle conflicts into word actualization of that precise starting spot to where REAL power and independence will arise for modern females. She may get a literary following. I hope it doesn't spoil her wisdom.

  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    2019-04-16 16:14

    This book was so good I had to keep reminding myself it was a fictional account. I could not put it down. Shirley is a fictional account about a young couple's year living with the author Shirley Jackson, her husband Stanley Hyman and their children.Newly married and pregnant Rose, with her professor husband Fred move into the home of the Hyman's that seems itself to be alive, full of secrets and mysteries. Both become consumed by the couple for different reasons.A long ago disappearance of a beautiful young student has Rose, and the town, suspicious of Shirley. Because anyone who has such thoughts, write such strange dark stories must be a witch. In the eyes of the community when it comes to Stanley (big, brash, bearded, lusty fellow) who can begrudge the man his flirtations when he is stuck with such an unattractive dark wife. But Rose soon attaches herself to the enigmatic author, wanting to be as important and fascinating as her. Not caring if Shirley hurt the missing student, Rose is consumed with loyalty, love and wanting to get in the mind of her hostess, as easily as Shirley seems to know Rose's every thought and feeling. We see in Rose a deep hunger for a different life, because she too is escaping her own darkness. As she says "Still, that second life was going to make me matter- it would have needs I could fulfill, would give volume and weight to the hardly noticeable manifestation that was me."Fred too lusts for the life Stanley lives, all the knowledge and admiration. The two share a bond based on folklore and soon Fred is as enmeshed in Stanley as Rose is in Shirley, each leading to choices that will hurt their marriage. They will both allow these vibrant talented people to seep into their own image and become someone different at the core. The long marriage between Shirley and Stanley is dissected, along with the interactions between each of their children with their parents. Stanley, regardless of his many affairs seems to need Shirley. He needs Shirley as an anchor, the partner that makes him the interesting character he is. Shirley herself is fascinating, frighteningly astute to the point of mind reading. She seems to have psychic ability, lending itself to the brand of witch. She has a disdain for the locals that is exposed in her story-telling. While she is a strong person, who sees perfectly the ugliness of reality she too has fractures. She buries the many betrayals she suffers at Stanley's hands and at a great cost to her emotional well being. The young college girls are a constant threat themselves with their youth and freedom to have any life they pick. More than an education, it's the privilege of choices and the constant presence of having a place, people who care if they go missing. As Rose says of her own mother, who lived hard and had nothing "My mother, outside somewhere dark, alone, missed by no one." Shirley calls them the 'harem' and Rose's youth and naivety blinds her to the threat the girls pose to her relationship. But with the all knowing, all seeing intelligent presence of Shirley, Rose will come to know the devil in all things. Shirley soon becomes Rose's center, but is Rose as vital to Shirley? Shirley's mind isn't one that can be entered lightly nor is hers an easily deciphered soul. Shirley resents Rose's attempts to make a character of her, though everyone in Shirley's life seems to Rose to be nothing but characters she can position at will. From the start she sees Shirley as a kindred, "Shirley's was the smile of a woman like me, the abandoned and the never-loved, it was the smile of the arrogantly insecure." ...the smile of the brilliant person in a woman's body, the beautiful woman in an ugly shell.I loved her immediately, I wanted to be her and take care of her." The line about being brilliant in a woman's body and beautiful in an ugly shell is perfection in this novel. Because we see what the struggle to rise above those restrictions does to a woman, how maddening it is that when one reaches success there too follows labels and envy. God help a brilliant, ugly woman in a man's world. This story takes place in the 60's but could just as well hold true for the struggles women face today. The novel is so beautifully written, and dark only because the ugly side of things seems to infect us, bringing out the devil in us all. It is more than an excavation of marriage and art, it is an awakening. Rose will be fresh and new, like a blossom and the harsh environment of the house, of life itself, will slowly wither her. Wisdom has a high price. I recommend this brilliant novel to everyone. I love it so very much. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It isn't often that I am sad when a novel ends, and a story is always best when the characters grow, for better or for worse.

  • Benjamin
    2019-04-23 21:07

    Shirley Jackson is my favorite writer, so the idea of a novel in which she is a character both entices and, well, alarms. Susan Merrell has, I think, succeeded amazingly well in getting onto the page a person you can believe is Shirley Jackson. Beyond even that, Merrell has imagined an anxiety-inducing, irresistible story—of a young couple that come to live with Jackson and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, in Bennington—that is not only a fine homage to Jackson but almost feels like a story she might have chosen to tell. At a certain point, a little short of halfway through the novel, I was so entranced that I knew I was not going to stop reading until I'd gotten to the very end. And I barely moved a muscle for hours except to turn pages.

  • Erin
    2019-03-29 14:14

    ARC for review. This is described as a psychological thriller, but don't expect twists, turns and suspense. It's really more of a character study of the Shirley Jackson of the author's imagination. Rose is a very young wife and expectant mother from a difficult background. She and her grad student (or professor? Aspiring professor?) husband go to Bennington College so he can work and finish his dissertation and they live with his mentor Stanley Hyman and his wife Shirley Jackson. Jackson has already published widely at this point, including The Haunting of Hill House and Rose admires and comes to love Jackson as her own mentor and mother figure. However, the Hyman/Jackson marriage is an incredibly difficult one, filled with secrets and Rose's life begins to mirror that aspect as well. So, the good - I absolutely adored this idea. Shirley Jackson is one of my all-time favorites (side note - I have an incredibly vivid memory of reading "The Lottery" for the first time. I was in ninth grade, first week of school. Like so many book lovers I would get my English textbook and immediately read nearly everything in it. Sandwiched between "Romeo and Juliet" and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, there it was. So dark and so very perfect! I was sitting in Earth Science reading away (which is why med school was never in the cards) and I was absolutely gutted.) The idea of a peek at her life (even fictionalized) was exciting. The book was well-written and very engaging. I loved the relationships between the characters, even the minor ones between Rose and Shirley's children. I enjoyed the mysterious aspects, touched upon but never incredibly explicit, and including an interesting tie to one of Jackson's short stories. Oh, and Rose's constant exhaustion - this was done so well. First Rose is pregnant, so her repeated episodes of incredible drowsiness make sense and then she's a new mother, sleeping when the baby sleeps, so it all makes sense, but it's also as if the house and/or the force of Jackson adds to her issue - she seems always to be drifting off to sleep or waking and Merrell does a great job of extending this dreamy, drowsy feel to the entire Bennington stay. In fact, (view spoiler)[the fatigue returns when she and Fred are at the library going through Jackson's papers. (hide spoiler)]The not-as-good - the heavy-handed THoHH imagery. The idea that the Jackson/Hyman house was alive and speaking to Rose/Eleanor was mentioned about a hundred times - total overkill, and, after awhile, distracting. Imagine "House of Cards" where Claire Underwood walks through her house with blood on her hands, not once but twenty times (yes, my husband and I watched all thirteen episodes this weekend, what of it? =)) - anyway, some things cry out for subtlety. Overall, a successive novelization of a popular writer's life and well-worth reading for fans of Jackson.

  • Leila
    2019-04-10 13:14

    Susan Scarf Merrell’s "Shirley: A Novel" is a psychological thriller about a young woman who lives for a year in the home of celebrated writer Shirley Jackson in the 1960s. Merrell mingles the real and the fictional in an interesting fashion, and provides a compelling character study of Jackson. The novel, however, did not captivate me as much as I had hoped.The Story: A young woman named Rose Nemser, newly married and soon to become a mother, comes to live in the home of Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman at Bennington College in Vermont in the mid-1960s. Rose’s husband Fred is a graduate student in English, and Hyman, a noted literary critic, takes him under his wing. Jackson, of course, is the real-life author of the famous short story “The Lottery,” as well as other fiction. While the literary world considers Hyman as the more intellectual of the two, it is Jackson’s writing that pays the family’s bills.Rose falls under the spell of the fascinating but unpredictable Shirley, hoping to emulate her as a writer and as a person. However, she begins to suspect something is amiss in the Hyman-Jackson home—there are troubling, unanswered phone calls, and gossip in the village about Stanley’s affairs. Rose becomes obsessed with the disappearance of a Bennington student years earlier.What I Thought: This is a fairly unusual novel. Merrell does some interesting things here by blending real historical characters and events into her fiction. The disappearance of the student, for example, actually occurred in 1946 and is still unsolved. The novel provides a fairly intriguing character study of Shirley Jackson, and Merrell even tells the story in the way that, perhaps, Jackson herself would have. I would imagine this is a must-read for serious Jackson fans.But although I appreciated the author’s intent here, I don’t think this novel is fully successful. While Merrell capably builds up tension and evokes a creepy sense of dread, there is little pay-off in the conclusion. The suspense, for me, didn't lead anywhere, and key questions are left unanswered. Merrell alludes to some tantalizing elements about Rose’s past, but does not follow through enough on these threads. Rose, in fact, seemed little more than a cipher to me, and I struggled to find an emotional connection to her. In the end, I found this to be an interesting read, but not wholly satisfying. I would rate "Shirley" about 2.5 out of 5 stars.I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.You can find this and other other book reviews on my blog, Readers' Oasis, at

  • noelle
    2019-04-25 13:57

    pretty bad and unsatisfying as a psychological thriller + weird in an also bad, gimmicky way as fictionalized imagining of shirley and her family. seems like merrell wanted to write a book in jackson's vein (unreliable neurotic girl narrator) but she unfortunately does not have the same gift for turn of phrase and her attempt to make the jackson home a character à la the haunting does not particularly work. constant inorganic name-dropping of titles from shirley's oeuvre. a fantastic waste of research, imo; imagine being in the library of congress riffling through shirley's papers and only having a web of shit to show for it.

  • Jennifer
    2019-04-13 14:49

    If nothing else, you have to admire Susan Scarf Merrell's guts.It takes a little something to base a novel on a year in the life of a writer whose work most people aren't familiar with; more to do it in such a way as to be an intertextual homage to that author. That's not just gutsy, it's horribly niche in terms of marketing. And yet.Shirley Jackson, whose short story "The Lottery" may be a staple of high school anthologies but whose novels (excepting the magnificent The Haunting of Hill House) were largely out of print until just the last few years, certainly deserves the attention SSM lavishes on her here. Jackson had a complicated life full of complicated relationships, and Merrell channels all of that into a riveting portrayal of the author which makes her quite literally monumental by equating her thematically with her house. If that sounds a bit Hill House, that's because it is - Shirley is thick with allusions to Jackson's work, and James Harris, the demon lover who crops up so often in Jackson's tales, makes an appearance here as well, though perhaps not how you'd expect.If I haven't bothered mentioning the nominal narrator, Rose, that's because Rose (like Eleanor in tHoHH) is just there to get us in the door, so to speak, and really only sees herself in relation to the larger-than-life Shirley. In other words: don't expect to like her too much, and don't expect gobs of plot.I enjoyed Shirley, but I'm not sure I can count it as being a truly successful novel. It's the kind of book that, to work, demands that you be already be familiar (and fond) of its subject matter. What's wrong with a book having standards, you ask? Nothing, necessarily. It's just that I don't set much value on winning over people who already agree with you, and I suspect Shirley, by its very nature, lacks the accessibility to create new converts to Jackson's work.

  • Chrissy
    2019-04-19 16:14

    A fictionalized account of a couple cohabiting with real-life horror writer Shirley Jackson, and her husband Stanley Hyman, this was disappointing to me. Jackson makes horror out of the mundane, while Merrell tries the reader's patience with anticlimactic denouement and distracting literary quotes. I finished it; I love the idea of it, but meh.

  • Paul
    2019-04-02 15:08

    Mesmerizing, odd, and yes, Jackson-esque novel featuring Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman as hosts to a graduate student and his young, pregnant wife Rose. Rose becomes obsessed with Shirley and with the disappearance of student, and so do we the readers. Very well done!

  • Erica-Lynn
    2019-04-19 20:58

    As a Bennington College grad myself, whose mother studied with Stanley Hyman at Bennington, I have long been fascinated with Shirley Jackson. I remember being a little girl and visiting the college, my mother saying, “She lived in that house,” while pointing at the great white, columned façade on Prospect Street, a steep-sloping lane that leads to the back entrance of the campus. Many years later, I lived in what was known as the Pink House, just a few houses down from Shirley Jackson’s house, my bedroom overlooking the very square where the stoning was imagined to have taken place in “The Lottery.” The old Hyman house (which everyone called the Jackson House), was a mysterious place: one hardly ever saw the inhabitants, or the lights on, and the building itself looked the same as it did when I’d first seen it in the 1970s, and my mother first knew it, in the late 1950s. It was a house that was easy to be obsessed with.Susan Scarf Merrell does the house justice in her unsettling novel, “Shirley,” in which Shirley and Stanley Hyman take center stage. The narrator, a fictional young wife of Stanley Hyman’s teaching assistant, named Rose Nemser, is quickly swept up in the house’s strange combination of unnerving melancholy and warm family vibe. It’s an overt nod to “The Haunting of Hill House,” of course, with Rose at several points worrying she is becoming “Eleanor” and that the house will “reject” her. But it’s Shirley’s rejection she really fears, a rejection that turns self-fulfilling prophecy when Rose becomes enmeshed in the Hyman’s dysfunctional marriage.Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman were Mad Men-era intellectual liberals working under the guise of a progressive college, but living in a tiny, conservative village whose inhabitants were both fascinated and repelled by them. Merrell captures the atmosphere of this strange dynamic perfectly. Even more harrowing than Rose’s obsession with a missing (probably murdered) Bennington College girl, are her trips to the North B. library to talk to the subtly frightful librarian, and the night she has to host Bernard Malamud for dinner, the Malamuds dredging up jealousy, rage and screeching depression just by stepping inside the creaky front door of that creepy white-columned home.At the core of this novel is Rose, who may at times remind the reader of Rose Baker in Suzanne Rindell’s “The Other Typist”: unreliable, unstable, and self-preoccupied. I must admit I found it disconcerting to read yet another portrayal of a female narcissist (they seem to be in abundance these days), until I realized that all the insecurities and paranoia, the projection and abandonment fear, the fabricating and obsessing that are wrapped up in this one character are just, well, everything that lurks inside any Shirley Jackson story. The House is the story, the women in the House is the story. Shirley Jackson is the story, coming to life and still haunting the reader from the other side.

  • Barksdale Penick
    2019-04-07 13:59

    This is a fictionalized account of a fragment of the life of SHirley Jackson, who wrote some wonderful short stories including the very famous The Lottery and one of my favorites, the lesser known An Ordinary Day with Peanuts. As fiction, the book tells a believable tale of life in a chaotic intellectual household with drinking, infidelity, and uproarious evenings, with a young couple who live with the established older couple when they first move to Bennington Vermont. The narrator, the young, high school graduate wife of the couple becomes mildly obsessed with Jakcson's work and tries to write her own prose along the same lines. Perhaps a true aficionado of Jackson's work would be able to understand more of the allusions to her work than I could, as her struggles with writing and hints of plot lines are mixed into the story. I suppose that while I found it an easy, interesting read, I had something of the same reaction I have when reading historical fiction--I can't tell what really happened and what is fiction. Did Shirley's husband really have some role in the disappearance of a student years earlier? DId Shirley know the girl? That is a major plot line that I had an adverse reaction to--the author seemed to be trying to introduce some dark mystery to the tale. But I thought the portrayal of the young couple meeting the academic world, in a time where it seems it was a given that male professors trysted with the students and wives were expected to suffer through it all, was quite well done. And the downward trajectory of the young academic's career was convincing. Year later, the no longer quite so young couple came upon all of Shirley work papers and dove into them, as he thought he might resurrect his career by examining her life and work. There was a fascinating revelation to the narrator found in these papers, that seemed to me to be exactly the sort of eye-opening insight that really happens in life in that it wasn't the clue to the mystery or a great insight into Jackson's soul, but instead a sense of what the narrator had meant to Jackson. I won't spoil the plot, but it is certainly a whimper and not a bang.

  • March Shoggoth Madness The Haunted Reading Room
    2019-03-27 14:05

    Reading thisnovel is akin to the changing perspectives an optometrist delivers with his or her lenses during a vision exam: first, we see Shirley Jackson, fine writer, from afar; change a lens- we see her in person-homemaker, wife, mother; another lens, through her husband's eyes, her children's perspective; then another lens and she is viewed as potential mentor, mother-figure,surrogate older sister. Change the lens again; yet more perspectives reveal themselves.

  • LAPL Reads
    2019-04-15 19:50

    Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of novelist Shirley Jackson, and since she died at 48 (in her sleep, of heart failure), December 2016 will be the centenary of her birth. Best remembered for her short story "The Lottery" and her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson has acquired some new readers in the past year thanks to Penguin reprints of the four novels she published between 1948 and 1958, including the only one set in her native San Francisco Bay area: The Road Through the Wall.For much of her writing career, Shirley and her family of four children lived in Bennington, Vermont, where her husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, taught at Bennington College--a women's school in those days. This novel, set in the last year of Shirley's life, centers on a (fictional) young couple from Philadelphia, Rose and Fred Nemser, who come to live with the Hymans. Fred, a Ph.D. candidate at Temple, has landed a job assisting Stanley with his folklore classes, and Rose, his pregnant 19-year-old wife, a former student he married after a whirlwind courtship, is thrilled and a little scared to be meeting the famous Shirley Jackson. The initial plan is for Fred and Rose to rent an apartment, but Shirley finds Rose intriguing and a possible stimulus to her writing, so they wind up living in the spare room, with Rose helping out with shopping and meal preparation.Rose's apprehension turns out to be amply justified, because Shirley Jackson Hyman is a complicated person. Her moods vary widely; she can be a sympathetic listener and a charming hostess to the literary celebrities who come to visit, but she can also be abrupt and hypercritical at times. She seems to have a remarkable ability to read Rose's thoughts and to sense details about her troubled childhood. At one point she tells Rose that the two of them must stick together as "girls without mothers", though both are emotional rather than literal orphans. Part of Shirley's volatility stems from progress or lack thereof on her current writing project, but the dynamics of her relationship with Stanley are also involved. They are clearly deeply in love, and Shirley considers him the best judge of her writing, but his constant infidelities with both students and "townies" lead to noisy arguments and drinking binges. As a contemporary of the Bennington students, Rose finds it hard to imagine pudgy, rumpled Stanley as a lover--at least at first.Rose is as complicated as Shirley, in her own way. Her chaotic, often impoverished upbringing has left her in need of parental authority figures. She coldly rejects the Hyman children's friendly overtures, envying their relationship with Shirley and Stanley, and she becomes fixated on Paula Welden, a Bennington student who mysteriously vanished while hiking back in 1946. Though Shirley used the incident in her writing, both she and Stanley deny knowing Paula, but Rose senses that they are lying and may have been involved somehow in her disappearance. She also feels the Hymans' Victorian house as a living presence, sympathizing with her or disapproving of her presence. In the course of her months in Bennington, Rose gives birth to her daughter and experiences a tumultuous series of events that will affect the rest of her life. Not surprisingly, her relationship with Shirley does not end well, but in looking back ten years later, Rose comes to realize the impact she had on what proved to be the last of Shirley's literary output.Shirley the novel has a few minor weak spots: We learn just enough about Rose's parents and her long-suffering older sister to want to know more, and this lack of detail sometimes makes it hard to see why Rose reacts or behaves as she does. But Shirley and Stanley are fascinating and believable human beings, and there are a number of beautifully written, sometimes amusing, set pieces, including a very entertaining cameo appearance by Bernard Malamud and his wife. Anyone who reads this book will want to explore the fictional creations of Shirley Jackson--particularly her last, unfinished novel, published posthumously as Come Along With Me.Reviewed by Robert Anderson, Librarian III, Literature & Fiction Department.

  • Amber
    2019-04-17 13:18

    This book was more literary in nature than I expected it to be and I found myself getting dragged into the story easily in the beginning. The story, however, got more confusing and vague with each passing chapter. There were many questions left unanswered and situations left up to the readers interpretation. A young couple, Rose and Fred, spend a year living with writer Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman. Fred gets an opportunity to work under Stanley at the college nearby. Rose and Fred are fictional, but Shirley and Stanley actually existed and this book is loosely based on their lives. This living situation with Shirley and Stanley seem to slowly possess the young couple. The longer they live there the more dreamlike the writing became. Like I stated before, much of the story had a vagueness to it. Was Shirley a witch who cast spells? Did Rose become a witch also or did the house just speak to her through her dreams and in doors that creak and stick? Did the house speak to Shirley too? And what about Paula, the young college student, did Shirley and Stanley have anything to do with her disappearance long ago? I think there was promise to this book, but all the questions left standing made it fall somewhat flat for me. Whether the reader gets answers to these questions or not, one thing rings true… the living situation was toxic for Rose and Fred’s new marriage. This book was also a study of Shirley and Stanley’s dysfunctional relationship which included lots of infidelity. I am not familiar with Shirley Jackson’s novels or her husband’s work. I am also not very familiar with many of the great writers that they speak of over their dinner table and maybe those who are may enjoy this novel more than I did. This is cast as a psychological thriller and while it is that, it’s suspenseful moments come slowly and quietly. (A copy was provided to me by Blue Rider Press via NetGalley.)I thought I would include a picture of Shirley Jackson and one of Stanley Edgar Hyman just to put a face to the names in this book.

  • K.
    2019-04-18 18:12

    I’ve always loved novels that play with perceived histories and realities, so Shirley immediately pressed all of my buttons. Susan Scarf Merrell imagines a world in which 19 year old Rose Nemser joins her husband, Fred, to spend a year living in the home of Shirley Jackson and her husband, literary critic and academic Stanley Edgar Hyman. While Fred and Stanley work together to teach a class on traditional folkloric ballads at Bennington College, Rose develops a quiet fascination with Shirley, who is grappling with depression and anxiety and struggling with her work as a writer and maintaining a functional family life in the wake of her husband’s infidelity.As the novel progresses, Rose’s fascination with Shirley grows. Aching to be accepted by Shirley, not just as a friend, but as a creative contemporary, Rose develops an interior life where she imagines herself as a writer. In turn, Rose’s husband develops a parallel fascination with Shirley’s husband. Both Rose and Fred seek to remake themselves in the images of Shirley and Stanley, leading to a series of increasingly damaging betrayals that test their relationship and their understanding of themselves and each other.Beyond exploring the home life and writing career of Shirley Jackson, Shirley is a novel about the interior lives of women and the choices that women are forced to make when attempting to balance their sense of self with their supposed duty to the men in their lives. Shirley is about the interplay between autonomy and happiness, subject and object, perception and reality. Rose dreams of a world in which she is made central to Shirley’s happiness; in which she is empowered to be heard and understood; in which if she were to go missing, someone would seek to find her, but this imagined world exists in stark contrast to her lived experience.Susan Scarf Merrell’s writing is smart and incisive and deftly balances the slow burn of Rose’s growing anxieties with more sinister, paranormal plot devices. Reading Shirley was a disquieting experience in the best possible way.

  • Andria
    2019-03-28 16:05

    I could not have found a better book to wrap up my 'year of reading Shirley,' especially immediately after reading her new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Now I feel like I "really know" her, and what it was like to live with her. A fictionalized account of a young academic and his wife living with Shirley and her husband (Stanley Hyman) for a year in Bennington VT, this is nearly as well-researched as her bio. Many events that really happened are recounted or alluded to here, such as the rowdy house party attended by Dylan Thomas that spilled out into the snow-covered yard. This has been described as a psychological thriller, and there is a thread of mystery spun around the circumstances of a young girl whose disappearance had inspired Ms Jackson's story, "The Missing Girl," but I'm not sure thriller is the right word to use here. I'm also not sure how appealing this book would be to someone who isn't a huge Shirley Jackson fangirl, but I found it immensely satisfying. The audiobook version was great - the way the reader did Shirley's voice sounded exactly like I imagined it, husky from bourbon and cigarettes.

  • ☕Laura
    2019-04-08 19:02

    I received this book for free through the Goodreads First Reads program and it may well be my favorite of all the books I have won to date. It is the fictionalized story of young newlyweds Rose and Fred Nemser who come to live for a time with actual literary couple Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman. The story contains persistent undertones of dysfunction, betrayal, mental illness and death and there is a wonderful gothic heaviness to the writing. I found myself mesmerized by this book and its intriguing, if not altogether likable characters. I am left wanting to read more about and by Shirley Jackson and also about the disappearance of college co-ed Paula Weldon, a case which figures prominently in this book as well as in some of Shirley Jackson's own writings. I am so glad I had to opportunity to read this book.

  • Paula Schumm
    2019-04-18 12:57

    Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Blue Rider Press for an advance copy of Shirley: A Novel. Shirley, by Susan Scarf Merrell, is a fictional account of a young couple who go to live with the psychological thriller author Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman in 1964. Shirley's The Haunting of Hill House is referenced several times throughout, and Rose feels the presence of Shirley's house around her. It directs and informs Rose of Shirley's feelings and movements. Shirley herself is cast as a flawed psychic who has been hurt many times by Stanley. The years-ago disappearance of a college coed, young and mature love, and the infidelity of men all figure in this engaging novel. Recommended.

  • Susan
    2019-04-26 13:13

    Merrell's penchant for telling rather than showing, her eye for visual and musical details, makes Shirley more of a movie scenario than a novel. The narrator Rose, a newly pregnant and married nineteen-year-old comes to the home of Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman near Bennington College so her husband Fred can help Hyman teach a course on folklore while Rose helps Hyman's wife, the psychologically fragile author Shirley Jackson, keep the household from falling into chaos. Rose becomes smitten with Jackson in a fairly icky way, and Fred takes on Hyman's worst habits. The idea here was better than the mawkish execution.

  • Jennifer Gibbons
    2019-04-24 14:52

    Since I've been on a Shirley Jackson kick lately, I decided to read this novel that features Jackson as a character. Rosie is a young wife to grad student Fred. Fred gets a teaching gig at a college, then stay at Jackson's house with her husband, Stanley Hyman. Estranged from her family, Rosie becomes close to Shirley, especially when Rosie has her own child. However, there are secrets lingering in the house, ones that Rosie wants to find out about, but Shirley won't let her. A wonderful thriller that even if you're not familiar with Jackson's work people should read.

  • Dinah
    2019-04-03 12:51

    "Inspired by," yes, but also inspired—on the level of story, on the level of language... And not only thrilling, not only bravely and beautifully written—unputdownable on both counts—but also wise and true.

  • Randee
    2019-04-14 13:04

    I first read Shirley Jackson when I was in middle school. The novel "We Have Always Lived in the Castle' to be exact. I was too inexperienced to know good writing from bad but I knew it provoked some seriously intense emotions within me. Dark emotions, feelings of claustrophobia, feelings of despair and hopelessness. It really bothered me and I was hooked. Better to feel something/anything than to be bored or nonplussed. I next borrowed 'The Haunting of Hill House' from the library. I loved it. It creeped me out. I felt that this was a believable and sophisticated ghost story much more impressive than any I had read to date. A few years later, I got my hands on copies of both 'Life Among the Savages' and 'Raising Demons'; her autobiographical novels of her life with her husband and children. Once again, I was utterly captivated, charmed and amused. Needless to say, I am a life long fan and own a copy of all of her work and have read many of them over and over. So, I was on high alert to be disappointed and critical of an author who dared write a story with Shirley and her husband, Stanley, as characters. This can work quite well (example: Robert Goldsborough continuing the Nero Wolfe series after Rex Stout's death) or quite badly (example: Danielle Page writing 'No Place Like Oz/Dorothy Must Die' as a continuation of the Oz series....she completely disregards the original Dorothy's character and personality and makes her into a modern day whining brat;; I am deeply offended and turned off owning 40 of the Baum Oz/Ruth Plumly Thompson, et. al, original books, so I am more than acquainted with little Dorothy who was a sweet child.) All of that being said, Susan Scarf Merrell has done a brilliant job in writing this...she brings Shirley and Stanley to life again, quite believably. She even evokes some of the haunting quality reminiscent of Shirley Jackson stories. I will even say there were some profound moments if you have lived a certain type of life that echoed all too true to me. One could read this without having heard of Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman, knowing nothing about them. However, it just adds innummerable layers if one is familiar with Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman and know about the life they led. The story does not feel like a stretch, it feels like a 'true' story and sends a shiver down the spine.

  • Martina Clark
    2019-04-10 15:02

    If books were candies, Shirley (published in June 2014 by Penguin) would be a Belgian chocolate, at least by my ratings. Belgian chocolates, by the way, are my favorite.The author, Susan Scarf Merrell, cleverly weaves layers upon layers of stories together in her latest novel bringing us mystery, history and psychological tension. We have stories of the individuals, their relationships to one another, mysteries unsolved and local lore that unfolds in curious ways.I will confess that I’ve never read any books by Shirley Jackson, around whom this story revolves, but I almost feel as if I have. And certainly now I will.Shirley is the fictionalized account of a newlywed couple – 19-year-old mother-to-be Rose and her aspiring professor husband, Fred – who find themselves sharing the house of author Shirley Jackson and her literary critic husband, Stanley Hyman. The characters interact so vividly that, at times, it was easy to forget that this was not all entirely based on reality, but rather the wonderful workings, of Merrell, a masterful storyteller.For someone who writes, or even just loves to read, this novel satisfies because all of the characters are linked in one way or another to the literary world. Their love of words and books and knowledge seeps out of every page making the reader feel as if we’ve been invited to listen in on private conversations of clever people we rarely get to know. Even the house, itself, feels alive and spills over with stories and intrigue of discussions gone by.The best part, however, is that at one point I found my Kindle indicating that I was 45% of the way through the book and the next time I checked, I was at 92%. It was that easy to read and that impossible to put down.Shirley is the first book I’ve read by Susan Scarf Merrell, but it won’t be the last.Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Blue Rider Press for an advance copy of Shirley: A Novel.

  • Kristi Thielen
    2019-04-02 15:57

    A slender book, based on a slender conceit: the young, pregnant protagonist and her husband, a graduate student, come to Bennington College in Vermont and move in with famed writer Shirley Jackson and her college professor husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. For, oh - quite a while. The idea that a busy writer with two of her four children still at home would take in this pair of strangers (and later, their baby, too) is a bit much. But you'd better be willing to suspend your disbelief enough to accept this or the rest of the plot line will frustrate you. We learn that the young woman, Rose, has come from a mysteriously troubled background. Nothing about this is ever resolved. We learn that, perhaps, Jackson may know more that she reveals about the disappearance of a young college student, whose story intrigues Rose. Nothing here is ever resolved, either.Both husbands are unattractive men who do unattractive things. Jackson's children come off as churlish and self-absorbed. Jackson, herself, is the centerpiece of the book, yet remains strangely opaque. Why Rose becomes so besotted with the writer is perhaps the greatest mystery of all. If only Merrell were really willing or able to explain Rose's obsession with Shirley. But she isn't and doesn't.

  • Josh
    2019-04-25 17:10

    Very unique approach to a quite interesting fictional account of a young family that comes to reside in the home of Shirley Jackson and her literary critic husband Stanley Edgar Hyman. It's woven together in a way that blurs the lines between nonfiction, short story, biography, essay, and suspenseful fiction. I am certain that die hard Shirley Jackson fans will react with either enthusiastic praise or unappreciative disdain against some liberties the author took within the storyline (I would think more enthusiasm as the author points out her intent clearly in the acknowledgments). Having not read anything much beyond "The Lottery" I must admit that this book served as an interest piece which prompts me to go a little deeper in Jackson's writings. The dynamic in play within her family seems true enough to what little research I have done while reading this one, and the genesis for many of her writings seem to show through here.Thankful to have been sent this copy via a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway. For me, it's somewhere between a 3 and a 4; rounding up as it has inspired me to add Jackson's lesser known stories to my pile.

  • Rafe
    2019-04-04 13:10

    So. Shirley Jackson is, and has always been, one of my very favorite writers. I admire her fiction, I wallow in Life Among the Savages, and because I have read that one so many times, I was primed to enjoy this novel. In the end, having blasted through it today, I think I did. I think the author does some awfully brave things, taking on the Jackson/Hyman household, and I liked very much the narrative voice of Rose, our slightly feckless young protagonist. The back cover copy says that the book is perfect for people who loved Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Secret History -- I should probably mention that the latter is one of my favorite -- and while those comparisons are reasonable, I found it really very much like a mid-career Joyce Carol Oates. After Arnold Friend, before Mulvaneys, if you see what I mean.Anyway. It's a very interesting novel, and I think it does a fine job giving us a new look at Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley.