Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell

A young couple spends a year at Bennington College living with gothic writer Shirley Jackson and her philandering husband.

George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have nothing on Shirley and Stanley, in real life (as chronicled in the wonderful biography Private Demons), and Shirley: A Novel delivers every ounce of juice you would hope for. Even better–the plot and characters are nothing short of excellent. Author Susan Scarf Merrell uses a thriller structure, and the plot is filled with allusions, both overt and subtle, to Jackson’s short stories and novels. I could not put it down, and now I’m aching to reread all of Jackson’s novels, starting with my favorite, Hangsaman. You don’t need to know anything at all about Shirley Jackson to appreciate the story, either. The author expertly salts the story with the necessary biographical information, though of course a familiarity with Jackson’s life and work make the experience richer.

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