Unpublished and uncollected work by the celebrated author of The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and other neo-Gothic chillers.
It’s fitting that this gathering by Jackson, who died half a century ago, should open with a perfectly crafted little story called “Paranoia.” Unfolding with the to-the-second pacing of a Twilight Zone episode, it finds a seemingly blameless fellow being pursued on a crosstown bus, into shops, and down city streets by an affectless fellow in a “light hat.” He’d like to tell the cops—but what is there to tell, apart from the fact that someone seems to be tailing him? Good thing his wife is waiting for him at home, but….Best known for her short story “The Lottery,” Jackson had a knack for finding the sinister in the ordinary; when presented with creepier props, she could really go to town, as when, in an early story, a young child threatens to steal away a doll belonging to a mild-mannered spinster of a schoolteacher, “a limp thing, with a gourd for a head and a scrap of red silk for a dress.” If you ever needed an explanation for why poltergeists always find their ways into homes with children, there it is. Even the pieces classified as domestic humor have an arch edge, as with one story that finds a mother wondering who left a hose out to freeze: “Not that the question is of the slightest importance, anyway. What’s important is to get it thawed out and put away. Let the dead past bury its dead, I firmly believe.” That’s a lot of portent for a stretch of rubber—and when Jackson gets to the frying pan and the scissors, things get dicier still. The volume closes with Jackson’s reflections on her work, in which she recounts dreams of closed gates and secretive conversations, nicely bracketing that paranoiac exercise that begins the book.
There’s an old-fashioned feel to Jackson’s language and setups, but her stories never fail to deliver. For fans of midcentury suspense, it doesn’t get much better than this.