Well, having praised “The Lottery” and expressed my preference for novels over short stories, I now must say some less-than-glowing things about Shirley Jackson’s novel The Bird’s Nest. I’ve had quite the string of less-than-glowing reviews, eh? And another one coming up, I’m afraid. I don’t know what to tell you except that they’re all being written on a rainy day at the start of May when there’s nothing sweet for me to eat and my cable box froze so I can’t watch my shows.
(The ease with which I produced those three rhymes has cheered me up more than you might expect.)
I picked up The Bird’s Nest at one of the used bookshops in Berkeley on my recent trip to California. My immoderate joy at finding it inspired my friend tim to read it and may, in fact, have written checks the book couldn’t cash. She didn’t say anything bad about it, but she was clearly not impressed. I didn’t know whether to chalk that up to the quality of the book, tim’s customary reserve, or tim’s taste in books. It is the first, I fear, or a combination of the first and the second, but anyway the first is a major element.
The Bird’s Nest is about an orphaned young woman called Elizabeth whose vicious, relentless migraines send her to Dr. Wright for cure by hypnotism. Dr. Wright soon discovers that there are several distinct personalities living inside Elizabeth: Lizzie, the diffident, passive girl who has been in charge for a while; Beth, sweet and lovable but ineffectual; stubborn, impudent Betsy; and spoiled Bess, who fears people are trying to steal her inheritance and does not know that several years have passed since the death of her mother.
Why I read the end: I didn’t. When tim was reading it, I asked her what happened at the end, and she told me.
I don’t know, y’all. I wasn’t expecting We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I thought The Bird’s Nest would be like The Sundial — not up to the standard of Shirley Jackson’s best books, but funny, and creepy, and claustrophobic. You know how sometimes if you love an author, the presence of their trademark stuff can fill your heart with enough love that you don’t mind a slightly mediocre book? (Like how I felt about the very Renaulty Promises of Love.) But The Bird’s Nest wasn’t as funny as The Sundial, and the characters bored me. It just wasn’t Shirley Jacksony enough. In short I might not have bought this if I’d read it before I got it, whereas I would buy The Sundial if I found it in a used bookstore.
Still on the lookout for the two Jackson novels I have yet to read!
For no discernible reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about JK Rowling when I was reading this book. JK Rowling, I miss you terribly! It’s been four years, and the last of the films will be out soon, and then we’ll have nothing, nothing, and you have to understand, your books are inextricably woven into the psyches of a whole generation. Please come back. My life has been bleak and barren since Harry Potter finished (oh Neville). I promise to love whatever you write next, and not compare it to Harry Potter.