Thursday, October 20, 2005
Elizabeth, Beth, Betsy and Bess
This book was fabulous. I highly recommend it to any Shirley Jackson fan. Certainly it's a minor work, like The Sundial, and mostly interesting to me for the perspective it gives her better-known books. Both The Haunting and We Have Always Lived In The Castle are told from the perspective of variously tormented heroines. You only gradually realize how people are reacting to them and how genuinely terrifying they are, and by that point they've pulled you in & won your sympathy. The Bird's Nest switches between a third-person description of its main character, Elizabeth, and a first-person account from her psychiatrist. The story is pretty much "Sybil": Elizabeth battles her multiple personalities, and eventually resolves the conflicts she feels about her childhood. Like Eleanor and Merricat, she lives mostly in her own mind, rejecting the uncaring outside world. Jackson's detached narration means you don't worry or care for Elizabeth. But you can't escape a steadily growing dread, beginning in an early scene when Elizabeth raises her face to her psychiatrist and, instead of his patient, he sees what he calls a "grinning fiend." A subplot involves Elizabeth's aunt and something awful that may have happened long ago; it doesn't hold together, but it does stick with Jackson's favorite theme that horror begins at home. Not as good as The Sundial, but much better than Hangsaman.