Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Hangsaman -Shirley Jackson

It's October, and I'm starting to feel in the mood for a creepy read, but a very particular creepy read.

 If I had a copy, I'd reread Hangsaman, a 1951 novel by the incomparable Shirley Jackson.   Hangsaman, which gets its title from the 15th century ballad "The Gallows Tree" , is about a shy college freshman named Natalie Waite who seems to be losing her already tenuous grip on reality. After a few weeks at school, she meets a girl named Tony and they get along great.  Natalie is blissful, but there's something odd about Tony.


After We Have Always Lived In The Castle and Life Among the Savages, this is my favorite Shirley Jackson book.  But the covers of successive editions make me crabby.  No one ever gets it just right.  Not like they do with Castle.  That one has seen one excellent cover after another.  The edition of Hangsaman pictured above seems to take things a little too literally.




This cover fits more with the spirit of the story, but it's got a 1960s feel.  It's all psychedelic, man, and wow. Yeah, maybe some magic mushrooms would take away those awkward late-adolescent blues.




This is where I start snickering, but I'm wearing my annoyed face, too. The girl in the cover has Jacqueline Kennedy hair and pointy breasts and she's being blown backward towards a forbidding Gothic structure.  It's like the illustrator got mixed up and drew for The Haunting of Hill House, a novel Jackson wrote several years later.  The background and lettering is the obligatory slime green and aqua that you see on so many Phyllis A. Whitney covers.




Out of all the covers, I like this one the best.  Red and black, and a partially destroyed Tarot card.  Suggested twistedness is always the best.  I could be happy with this copy.  So would Shirley Jackson.

7 comments:

Kate Midnight Book Girl said...

I love reading creepy books in October! I read them all year round, but they're especially fun this month. I am a Jackson fan, have been since my drama club put on The Lottery so many, many years ago when I was teen... I will definitely have to check this out! And I totally agree, those are some horrible covers!

JaneGS said...

I don't think I have what it takes to read this book--my other two encounters with Jackson (Castle and Lottery) left me dazed for days, and I have college kids, one of whom is shy.

I loved your look at the covers--wouldn't it be great if Penguin Classics took a stab at this one. I loved their Castle cover.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Oh man, most of those covers are awful! I really enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle last year, but I haven't read anything else by her. I'll have to check this one out!

Unapologetically Mundane said...

Funny how book covers make such an impact on me, yet I never even think about them now that I only read on my Kindle.

I was never a fan of horror, but then my boyfriend showed me the 1963 "The Haunting", which is based on "The Haunting of Hill House", and it became one of my favourite movies ever! I wonder if I would like the book as much as the movie.

Bybee said...

Kate,
My drama club did The Lottery, too!

JaneGS,
Penguin's covers are the best.

Melissa,
I'm always happy when someone reads Castle.

Unapologetically Mundane,
I knew your boyfriend was cool, but extra coolness points to him for showing you the 1963 version of The Haunting.

Jenny said...

I'm wailing out loud because I am so sad that I do not own Hangsaman and neither does my library and hence I have no prospect of reading it in the near future.

rjkingman said...

Great book and I'm about to write a succinct review for it. I actually had purchase it on abebooks since it's not readily available like a few of Jackson's other novels.