Monday, March 17, 2014


ShirleyShirley by Susan Merrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've ever read a Shirley Jackson story (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, etc.), you are unlikely to forget it.

Against my better judgment, I accepted the invitation from Net Galley to read an early edition of Susan Scarf Merrell's second novel due out June 12, 2014, which is described as imagining a young fictional couple moving in with the real author and her family. The description of the book as a 'psychological thriller' sounded interesting.

Original in its concept, Shirley: A Novel is about obsession. I would not describe it as a psychological thriller. The young wife, Rose, wants to be and have what Shirley Jackson has no matter the consequences. Her academic husband, Fred, is enthralled with his mentor Stanley Hyman, Shirley's husband. During their time with the author in Bennington, Vermont around 1964, their daughter Natalie is born, and our unreliable narrator tells her tale.

First let me say, that I have avoided reading what is called 'fan fiction' although Susan Scarf Merrell's book seemed special in several ways.

The majority of reviews beginning to appear are enraptured with the book, but one person wrote about some of the things that bothered me. Check out The Fictionalization of Shirley Jackson by Hope Leman.

Whose story is this to tell? How would you feel is someone decided to write a story about your parents, your family, making things up that may or may not be fact and adding fictional elements that the wide readership will have no way of knowing to be true or not. The family had four children, whom I believe are all living . Stanley Hyman, who was a well known figure, is portrayed as a drunken leech. Our heroine Rose is suspicious that Shirley Jackson was involved in some way with the (true) disappearance of a young woman who may or may not have been one of Stanley's students.

Because I 'read' this book on my Kindle, it was interesting to see how many passages I highlighted and how many times I bookmarked a page and put the book down. Susan Scarf Merrell's writing is highly descriptive. I am usually proud of the fact that I am able to intuit a wider vocabulary that I actually possess but I was constantly looking up the meanings to words in this very literate work.

Bottom Line: RECOMMENDED with reservations. This book will not appeal to everyone although I think it will generate favorable reviews and possibly spark a renewed interest in the works of Shirley Jackson.

Title: Shirley
Author: Susan Scarf Merrell
Genre: Literate fiction
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
ISBN: 0399166459
No. of Pages: 288 pages
Copyright: June 12, 201
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: NetGalley

DISCLOSURE: Invited by NetGalley to request and receive this title for an honest review.

Susan Scarf Merrell is an American author specializing in the novel, short story, and essay. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Arts & Sciences, Susan Scarf Merrell received her MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College and currently teaches in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. (Source: Wikipedia)


  1. Very interesting review (and not just because of the shout-out to my own review).

    I found the use of the actual murder mentioned in the book also troubling--that person, like Jackson, may have living relatives whose feelings should have been considered.

    I was also intrigued by the fact that you used quotes around the word "read" here, "I 'read' this book on my Kindle." Do you not consider reading on a Kindle as actually reading a book? I ask because I recently bought an iPAD Mini for the express purpose of reading books downloaded from Netgalley (which is where, like you, I obtained my copy of Shirley). I consider it reading to use the iPAD, though I do miss the ability to underline with a felt tip pen in a hard copy.

    It will be interesting to see if others are somewhat troubled by the portrayal of Stanley Hyman as a drunken lecher as well as by Merrell's appropriation of Jackson's life for her book.

  2. I suppose I still feel ambivalent about reading on my Kindle, but I think the idea was to explain why I was able to easily see how many passages I had highlighted and also how many times I had to put the book down.
    And some of the formatting on Net Galley books like SHIRLEY detracts from the experience for me.
    I too want to underline and be able flip to favorite passages to reread. I find I prefer different mediums for different stories.