October 29, 2009

DEAD SQUARED:

Chilling Fiction. . . (JOHN J. MILLER, 10/28/09, WSJ)


One morning in the 1950s, a housewife in Vermont woke up, walked downstairs, and found a note on a desk in her own handwriting. She didn't remember leaving it the night before. The message was simple and stark: "DEAD DEAD."

These cryptic words would have unsettled a lot of people, but not Shirley Jackson. She took them as a somnambulant inspiration and went on to compose what is now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written. "I had no choice," she said. "The ghosts were after me."

There are, in fact, no ghosts in "The Haunting of Hill House"—or at least no garden-variety specters that float down hallways in their luminescent gowns and partial transparence. The novel, whose 50th anniversary is this year, nevertheless unfolds in a familiar setting: the creepy house with a sinister past, newly occupied by ghost hunters who seek to confirm the presence of the supernatural. It's a well-worn trick. In the hands of Jackson, however, it becomes a literary treat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 29, 2009 6:15 AM
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