Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
Natalie Waite, daughter of a mediocre writer and a neurotic housewife, is increasingly unsure of her place in the world. In the midst of adolescence she senses a creeping darkness in her life, which will spread among nightmarish parties, poisonous college cliques and the manipulations of the intellectual men who surround her, as her identity gradually crumbles.
Inspired by the unsolved disappearance of a female college student near Shirley Jackson’s home, Hangsaman is a story of lurking disquiet and haunting disorientation (via Goodreads)
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite books. Period. Having reread it back in September (for the third or fourth time), it still chilled me and I still found interesting bits to chew on. That’s probably why I gave Hangsaman over 200 pages before I gave up on it.
Hangsaman was Jackson’s second novel, published eight years before Hill House. Both novels deal with paranoia concerning being a group outsider. Both novels are about the place that a young woman is expected to take in society versus her suitability for that role. Many of Jackson’s works deal with these issues and are probably reflective of her own personal concerns.* The difference is in Hill House Jackson uses the trope of the haunted house as a framework for investigating these issues. No such framework exists in Hangsaman. We are left adrift in the mind of Natalie Waite and it’s hard to find *that* to be a compelling story. Jackson does one better in her next and last novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s pretty much a full-on modern Gothic. To me, Hangsaman feels like an early foray into dealing with these issues of identity.
I’ve lately read a few comments about this book along the lines of “lots going on/hard to unpack/I think I’m missing something” and I think that’s because there is no roadmap for experiencing Hangsaman. Some readers might like that; I like it better when form can help clarify the message.
* The missing student is revisited in several of her short stories as well. Personally, I can understand Jackson’s fascination with that story. As a woman, wouldn’t it be nice to leave all expectations behind? But without society’s expectations, do women simply disappear?
My Edition: 1951, Farrar, Straus and Young, hardback
Why did I choose to read this book? Enjoyed other works by author; Book Smugglers readalong