Sunday, July 18, 2010
Shirley Jackson not good enough for Library of America?
Ed here: As you've probably guessed by now I'm a big admirer of Laura Miller's reviews and literary criticism. Here she writes with particular insight about the snobbery of literary elitists.
Is Shirley Jackson a great American writer?
The author of "The Lottery" is still not getting the respect she deserves
BY LAURA MILLER
The Shirley Jackson Awards for excellence in "literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic" were awarded over the weekend, and the results are a refreshing mix of well-known and emerging writers, from large and small presses working in both literary and genre traditions -- or, rather, in the wild and fruitful territory between the two. The awards are only 3 years old, but have already proved a fitting tribute to a writer who roamed freely over similar ground and has never quite gotten the respect she deserves.
In fact, it's a banner year for Jackson's legacy: the Library of America has just published "Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories," edited by Joyce Carol Oates and containing 47 short stories in addition to her two most celebrated novels, "The Haunting of Hill House" and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle." Yet these laurels were tarnished a bit in April, when Newsweek critic Malcolm Jones used the publication of the Jackson volume as the occasion for an essay asking whether the LOA was running out of important writers to publish. "Shirley Jackson?" he wrote. "A writer mostly famous for one short story, 'The Lottery.' Is LOA about to jump the shark?"
The question of whether a figure like Jackson is sufficiently "Rushmore-sized" (Jones' term) to deserve inclusion in a series of collections dedicated to such writers as Mark Twain and William Faulkner was again brought to mind by a blog posting by Lee Siegel at the New York Observer. "Where Have All the Mailers Gone?" it was called, and in it Siegel lamented the irrelevance of fiction since the heyday of such titans as "Bellow, Updike, Mailer, Roth, Cheever, Malamud" and pointed to the ascendancy of nonfiction in its stead. Even the commercial fiction of yore, Siegel maintains, "mattered to people" more than today's bestsellers. The soapy epics of Herman Wouk and Marjorie Kellogg "illumined the ordinary events of ordinary lives ... and they were as primal as the bard singing around the pre-Homeric fire."
While Siegel's posting was for the most part too silly and uninformed to bother responding to, it serves as a reminder of just how arbitrary, unreliable and tiresome the Literary Greatness Sweepstakes can be.
for the rest go here: