Saturday, February 13, 2010
A few years back, I read about a woman who had self-published a couple of books about her experiences as a wife and mother. She said that she was careful to put only short amounts of text on each page because she wrote for women, and women were busy and didn't have time to read much.
I have a hard time coming up with the words to describe how I felt about that.
I kept thinking of that woman as I read Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. The pieces in this book (the structural layout is a little odd, in that things seem run together though they aren't) are just so well done. You never get the feeling that Jackson considered her readers--whomever they ended up being--too busy to consume good writing. She writes of experiences common to women, and she gives mending and going shopping with the kids the attention and style those tasks deserve.
I believe Jackson to have been a writer who was very interested in women's lives. You see it in her short stories, and again in Savages. Her work reflects the period in which she lived. In Savages, for instance, Jackson smokes during pregnancy and appears to have thought nothing of it.
You don't see a lot of Jackson the writer in Life Among the Savages, and when you do, it's in a heartbreaking passage in which she describes being admitted into the maternity ward. When asked her occupation by a clerk,
"Writer," I said.
"Housewife," she said.
"Writer," I said.
"I'll just put down housewife," she said.
Jackson doesn't comment on the exchange, but I don't think she has to.
About those savages--they are piece of works. Jackson, as she appears in this work, clearly loves them. But those kids are...difficult to describe. They have fantasy lives at a time when fantasy lives may not have been all that desirable. They are outspoken with one another and with everyone else. In the last pages the three older ones are introduced to their new baby brother, whom they refer to as "it." These are not Mother's Day greeting card children by a long shot.
As I've often said, I was a big Jackson fan when I was a teenager, and I suspect I read this book back then. I probably found those kids funny, but I couldn't possibly have understood all that was going on here. This is a book for adults (male and female) who don't give a damn about how much they have to read in order to share an experience with a writer.