JUST AN ORDINARY DAY by Shirley Jackson

JUST AN ORDINARY DAY

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A patchwork collection of 54 (mostly brief) stories, all previously uncollected and/or unpublished, by the late (191965) author of The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, and other classics of contemporary supernatural fiction. Jackson's talent was to find the ghoulish and disturbing just beneath the surface of the commonplace (her work has significantly influenced Stephen King's). Accordingly, a majority of these stories portray marital or domestic crises, cunningly raised to high levels of tension and, very often, terror. Though Lucifer himself shows up in a few (most memorably, ``The Smoking Room,'' where he's outwitted by a calculating coed), Jackson's evil figures are, much more often, enigmatic men who prey on or otherwise disappoint the women who adore them (``The Honeymoon of Mrs. Smith''), children who intuit odd occurrences and presences their elders cannot perceive (``Summer Afternoon''), and nice old ladies whose charming eccentricities mask their darker purposes (``The Possibility of Evil''). There's rather a lot of inchoate work here (such as a weak piece of romantic medievalism, ``Lord of the Castle''), and many of the bland titles were obviously only preliminary. Of the unpublished stories, best are such Saki-like models of compact menace as ``The Mouse,'' ``What a Thought,'' and ``Mrs. Anderson''--as well as two of Jackson's most amusing pictures of embattled motherhood (``Arch-Criminal'' and ``Alone in a Den of Cubs''). The uncollected pieces, many of them first published in popular magazines, are nevertheless generally much stronger. They feature several ingenious premises (``The Wishing Dime,'' ``Journey with a Lady,'' and especially ``The Omen,'' a complex chiller beautifully developed from its fairy-tale-like beginning), vividly realistic characterizations (``Mrs. Melville Makes a Purchase''), and at least one indisputable classic: ``One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,'' in which Jackson records with virtuosic understatement the cruel and unusual avocation shared by a devoted suburban couple. Even at a bit below the level of her best work, it's nice to have Jackson back again.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-553-10303-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996




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