Old School Wednesdays Readalong: Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson. Posted on October 29, Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. To readers in , Shirley Jackson’s second novel Hangsaman (reissued this year by Penguin with an introduction by Francine Prose) must. Hangsaman seems an account of trauma’s aftermath, of the shapes we implore the world to take so that the unpleasant or shocking can be.

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Reading Hangsaman is like entering a dark labyrinth, only to discover that you have always been it, and that the novel has merely awakened you to this fact, something you have tried all your life to forget.

How and why is this so? How does a book whose ostensible plot is as simple as young-woman-goes-to-college-and-awakens-to-herself assume gigantic, monstrous proportions in your mind?

There are no scenes without Natalie Waite, the seventeen-year-old protagonist who leaves home for a progressive although this is relentlessly and subtly mockedBennington-like college. It becomes difficult to tell where the narrator leaves off and Natalie begins: Natalie has a running conversation in her mind, for instance, with a detective who accuses her of murder.

She toggles between internal conversation with him and with her parents in this scene:.

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (1952) – a review

Natalie, fascinated, was listening to the secret voice which followed her. I dont hate ithe thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont hate it! Instead, they are—impossibly—free-floating, as if the invisible, third-person shirlej and Quentin had merged, both speaking through one voice. This culminates in the violence of one long, tour de force sentence:.

Then the stairs, step by step, and all this while the mannikens inside run screaming from each section of the house to a higher and more concealed room, crushing one another and stumbling and pulling frantically, slamming doors behind them while my strong fingers pull each door softly off its hinges and pull the walls apart and lift out the windows intact and take out carefully the tiny beds and chairs; finally they will all be together like seeds in a pomegranate, in ajckson tiny room, hardly breathing, some of them fainting, some crying, and all wedged together looking in the direction from which I am coming, and then, when I take the door off with sure careful fingers, there they all will be, packed inside and crushed back against the wall, and I shall eat the room in one mouthful, chewing ruthlessly on the boards and the small sweet bones.


The novel sweeps up in its currents all sorts of mid-twentieth century taboos and scatters references them throughout its pages, giving us glimpses of topics rarely addressed in mainstream fiction of the era.

Others are also double-coded, such as the several references to the intimacy between Natalie and Tony. Had Guy lied about her being pregnant? He stared at Miriam with his head cocked.

Then something made a connection in his mind before he was aware of looking for it: She could be walking around now if she had had an abortion, for instance. Tilson speaking to Cathy] try to stab yours [baby] with a knitting needle. The baby is safe. Your aim was bad. Do you know what the law in this state has to say about abortion? Reading it I felt—unaccountably—as if I was in a sandstorm, waiting for the final grain, finally, to choke me.

How to keep track of all the small, unrecorded moments that drag us down, at last, back into the mud?

Hangsaman (Penguin Classics): Shirley Jackson, Francine Prose: : Books

I had to put the book aside every few pages to shake my hair, the grains of sand falling out like thunder. Turning its pages, traces of Natalie stained my fingertips. Not the middle of summer. What is going on here? Like Catcher in the Rye published the same year as Hangsaman and Lolitahhangsaman references to real-time, everyday Americana show Jackson beginning to plow the pop culture territory that David Foster Wallace and other postmodern-era authors would explore in later decades.

In the scene, an artist is taunted by a talking statue to cross over into a large mirror hanging on a wall. In one remarkable, violent cut, the artist, standing in front of the mirror, falls into the mirror which, for a few seconds, has transformed into a pool of water.


This threshold, this porous boundary between one reality and another, between interior and exterior, between one self and other self, is the secret engine that powers the novel. There are other odd, improbable, tenuous connections, as if Hangsaman had a secret way of speaking to or through other artifacts beyond its time. Even more strangely, the extended game that Natalie and Tony play is a one whose contours and rules are only barely visible to us as shirely.

That house with the wide porch is familiar to us; we live there. You sweep the porch and I dust the living room just inside.

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And now we are going past our stop. Beyond this corner, everything is wilderness.

The fact that the video game or any video game is, in fact, part of the real world insomuch as the experience of playing it is real is a further turn of the screw and gives lie to the distinction between the real world and the artificial or imaginary world.

Lost, sitting by a fire in the desert at night, Casey Affleck begins, out of nowhere:. Well, I got more than that, actually. I ruled this land for 97 years and uh, and uh, I had, like.

I had all the sanctuaries built. Nicholas Rombes can be found here. She toggles between internal conversation with him and with her parents in this scene: This culminates in the violence of one long, tour de force sentence: Dear Sir Knight, It was not you, then, caroling lustily under my window these three nights past? Lost, sitting by a fire in the desert at night, Casey Affleck begins, out of nowhere: Kimberly Dark Swinging Modern Sounds