The subject of today's Friday's "Forgotten" Books is one of Patti Abbott's occasional themed weeks, namely, American author Shirley Jackson (1916-1965). I don't know how much reading today's school children do, but when I was coming up through the system, Jackson's classic short story "The Lottery" was a staple of the mandated literature curriculum. Although Jackson published six novels, she is known primarily for her short fiction. Her over seventy stories have been collected and anthologized into numerous volumes, including American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now, edited by Peter Straub and published by The Library of America in 2009.
This is the second of Straub's two-volume lookat fantasy and horror stories in which he explains that "the fantastic is a way of seeing." For her own part, Jackson once explained her love of writing fantasy/horro short stories in much more pedestrian terms: "There is pleasure in seeing a story grow...It's so deeply satisfying, like having a winning streak at poker." Yet, throughout much of her work there is the same undercurrent that things are not always what they seem. Psychological trauma, isolation, madness, and unfulfilled fantasies are all themes that insinuate their way into her characters and plots.
The story Straub included in American Fantastic Tales is "The Daemon Lover," a story Joyce Carol Oates once praised as "deeper, more mysterious, and more disturbing than 'The Lottery'." The basic premise seems simple: a thirty-something woman wakes to find her fiancé, Jamie Harris, missing. So she searches for him throughout the town, growing increasingly distressed when no one seems to know him or to have seen him.
Even the narrator herself says "Reconciled, settled, she tried to think of Jamie and could not see his face clearly, or hear his voice," then justifies that by adding, "It's always that way with someone you love..." But exactly who or what is her lover? Is he even real? Like "The Lottery" and many other Jackson stories, the ending is up for interpretation.
The rest of American Fantastic Tales includes 41 stories by Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Stephen King, Steven Millhauser, Harlan Ellison, Michael Chabon, Thomas Ligotti and many more. Both volumes together represent a good overview of the "Twilight Zone" genre of literature, or, as the book's description adds, to "provide an irresistible journey into the phantasmagoric underside of the American imagination."