Saturday, December 29, 2012

Life Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages is the first of two books based on her domestic life with her husband; at first two (Laurie and Jannie), then three (Sally), and by the end of the book, four (Barry) children; various cats; a dog; neighbors and tradespeople. She and her family have moved from Manhattan to a rambling house in Vermont. She learns to drive a car, her children start school, she drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes and muses on the chaos. 

Some of the situations were amusing but for me there were too many lengthy, nonsensical conversations with and among the children - in the car or at the breakfast table. I found myself growing impatient; I kept wanting the action to move on a bit.

One of the most entertaining stories was her chapter on The Puzzle of the Missing Blanket. Everyone in the household is suffering with the grippe. Ms. Jackson sets up the mystery in a fine manner giving the reader the layout of the four bedrooms on the second floor, the temperature in each bedroom, the color of the bed linen, and where everyone sleeps. 

Sniffling, Dad moves into the guest room taking his cigarettes, matches, an ashtray and his tumbler of water. Ms. Jackson takes to her bed, with her cigarettes, matches, ashtray and a small glass of brandy. Soon one of the children winds up in bed with Mom with her own pillow, books, doll, and fruit juice. Mom gathers up her cigarettes et al., and heads to the guest room. Dad now finds it to be too warm in the guest room and gathers his paraphernalia
and heads down the hall to another bedroom while the son trundles into the guest room with the dog. By the end of the story, all the members of the family, including the dog, have changed beds at least twice if not three times taking with them on each switch all their tumblers, blankets, pillows, dolls, cigarettes and ashtrays. 

She ends this tale, which is written in the finest manner of a Game of Clue, thusly:

The puzzle is, of course, what became of the blanket from Sally's bed? I took it off her crib and put it on the bottom half of the double-decker [bunk bed], but the dog did not have it when he woke up, and neither did any of the other beds. It was a blue-patterned patchwork quilt, and has not been seen since, and I would most particularly like to know where it got to. 

For a minute, I was tempted to reread the story and plot the path of the Missing Blanket as it moved from bed to bed. But it is much too late now to let Ms. Jackson know where her blanket ended up.


  1. I bought this after reading Simon T's excellent review but still haven't read it. I could see how the excessive focus on the children could be off-putting. That was one of the problems with Provincial Daughter (written by E.M. Delafield's daughter), too. I am looking forward to reading it but will consider myself forewarned!

    1. Overall it is quite amusing. I don't know how anyone with four children could even find time to think much less write a book about her day-to-day! Her second book is Raising Demons. At least these won't give you nightmares like her scary stories. I am still reeling from reading "The Haunting of Hill House."

  2. Sorry you didn't love this quite as much as I did, but thank you for reminding me of that story, which I'd forgotten! I think I'll be re-reading LATS this year.

    1. I enjoyed it overall and will try and find a copy of "Raising Demons". My library only carries her spooky books.