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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Just an Ordinary Day
By Shirley Jackson
ISBN 0-553-10303-2
Bantam/388 pp./ $23.95

From an academic standpoint, I appreciate the effort of two of Shirley's Jackson's children in presenting 30 of their mother's unpublished short stories and another 23 that were left out of the two collections her widower, Stanley Edgar Hyman, edited just after her death in 1965. Seeing an author's development and her mistakes is often illuminating. Being able to read her stories written for the women's market of the day is also interesting from a literary and sociological point of view.

CoverBut as an admirer of Miss Jackson's writing, I feel she has been done an injustice. It was once said of Jackson that "She never wrote a bad sentence." Well, now we have proof she did write a few. Even worse, we discover she wrote some pure drek. Not a single story shows her genius. There are several "deals with the devil" stories; lots of fussy old biddies; saccharin kids and smarmy romances.

If you disregard the devil-stories, the best of the lot are the darker ones. "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts," had trouble finding publication and was finally purchased by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appearing in January, 1955. It's a well-written and placid story of naughty versus nice, not evil versus good. But at least you get a good dose of Jackson's ability to see beyond the middle-class facade.

"The Possibility of Evil" almost reaches the higher mark, although it reads as if someone else was writing in the style of Jackson. The ending is abrupt, predictable, and weak, but overall it is effective. "Nightmare" is a decent Kafkaesque piece and "The Missing Girl" lingers in the mind, disturbing the reader later.

The unpublished stories are arranged in roughly chronological order. The earliest must have been written at an early age. But a pseudo-medieval fantasy piece, "Lord of the Castle," with witchcraft, the devil, and a wench in the tower, comes three-quarters of the way through the unpublished section. It is so awful that one is embarrassed at its inclusion.

So, perhaps, that's it in the end. There are eight to ten stories in Just an Ordinary Day that one could recommend to someone unacquainted with Shirley Jackson's work and that might do her justice. There are another half dozen that one can admire on the basis of sheer craft, even if they don't stand up as great stories. I think the author would be embarrassed that we are reading some of them. We certainly can't blame her for the too ordinary Just an Ordinary Day. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.