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What To Read When You’ve Run Out of Shirley Jackson’s Books

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Annika Barranti Klein

Staff Writer

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Monday, January 11th.

This post originally ran October 20, 2015.

Shirley Jackson died in 1965 at age 48, leaving behind an impressive body of work. I discovered her writing in 1998 at age 20, and my life has not been the same since. But when your favorite author died more than 30 years before you discovered them, you eventually run out of books and stories to read. Her last posthumous collection had been published two years before I read my first story of hers, and I assumed there would never be another.

shirley jackson let me tell youImagine my joy when I learned that two of her children, Laurence Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt, were publishing another collection of her (mostly unpublished) work from her Library of Congress archives. That book, Let Me Tell You, was published on August 4th of this year. I am reading the stories and essays very slowly, savoring them as the likely last stories of hers that I will ever get to read. Certainly it is possible that more collections could be released; The Library of Congress holds boxes and boxes of her papers, and Laurence Hyman’s introduction to Let Me Tell You is written in such a way to suggest, to the hopeful eye, that there could be more.

That said, one final collection 50 years after an author’s death is more than anyone could have hoped for. Her children are in their 60s and 70s, and presumably have more to do than sit on the floor in a drafty library and sift through her papers. (Shh. That is exactly how it happened.)

So what’s a Shirley Jackson fan to do? Read other authors.


Nova Ren Suma’s entire catalog is must-read. Her work is sometimes self-described as magical realism, though to my mind it often ventures into a sort of modern gothic horror. Imaginary Girls is her first YA novel (she published Dani Noir, a sweet middle grade mystery, earlier) but my top choice is 17 & Gone, which genuinely felt like reading a new Shirley Jackson novel at times. (Please note: Nova is a personal friend of mine.)

Katherine Dunne has three published novels. I have only read 1989’s Geek Love. While the content is very different than any of Jackson’s stories, the pervading sense of dread and flawless prose give a similar feeling to the reader.

Richard Matheson is on this list with great hesitation. To be frank, his work was at times so influenced by Shirley’s as to be overly derivative, while often given praise for originality. In particular, his Hell House is a direct riff on The Haunting of Hill House, and his short story “The Distributor” reads like something of an update of her “The Possibility of Evil.” That said, his writing is excellent and in the absence of any further novels by Ms. Jackson, Mr. Matheson’s catalog fills the gap and is important in its own right.

Short Fiction

Maria Dahvana Headley also writes novels, which I suspect are wonderful (they’re on my long TBR list), edited an anthology with Neil Gaiman, and co-wrote a novella with Kat Howard. Her short fiction is available on her website, and runs the sci-fi/fantasy/horror gamut. She has a way with words and atmosphere that bring Jackson to mind.

E. Lillith McDermott has a relatively small list of publications, all of them eerie and delightful. She also writes about parenting, just like Jackson did. Find her work on her website.

F. Paul Wilson, especially The Barrens and Others. I would rate this collection just below The Lottery and Other Stories (if I were making a list of best short story collections). Hauntingly beautiful.

I’m sure (as is suggested by the continued existence of the Shirley Jackson Awards) there are others. I plan to spend my time looking for them, as soon as I’m done with Let Me Tell You.