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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


*****Life Among the Savages

by Shirley Jackson

Reviewed April 24, 2002.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#1, Biographical Nonfiction Rereads)
First published in 1948.  Academy Chicago Publishers, 1993.  241 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (B JAC).

This book is a riot!  You’ve heard of Shirley Jackson--She wrote the chilling story, “The Lottery,” that’s found in many English textbooks.  This book shows another side of a great writer--The hilarious chronicler of family life.

The “Savages” in the title are Shirley Jackson’s four children.  And no one can make everyday life with children seem more wildly funny than Shirley Jackson.  Her classic tale about “Charles” is so good that I found it in my son’s 8th grade Literature textbook.

Why is it that it’s comforting to read about another person’s personal chaos?  Why is it so delightful to learn about another person’s foibles?  This book is full of incidents that had me laughing out loud.  And she beautifully captures the chaos of family life.  I love her ability to record conversations where each child is talking with their mother about a different topic, all at once.

I thought my children’s imaginary companions were fun, but never knew how extreme that can get.  Shirley Jackson’s daughter went through a stage where she insisted on being called Mrs. Ellenoy, and was rather embarrassing when she scolded Mrs. Ellenoy’s seven daughters in public.

The first paragraph will give you the flavor of this book:
“Our house is old, noisy and full.  When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lamps and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks.  This is the way of life my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we had fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay there and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark.”

This book is well worth owning, as then you have it to pull out whenever you find yourself in need of a good hard laugh.  Definitely a cheering sort of book.

Review of another book by Shirley Jackson:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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