Author: Susan Scarf Merrell
Fred, a young graduate student, and Rose Nemser, his pregnant wife, move into the home of author Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman when Fred begins to teach at Bennington College. It is an unconventional household that fosters strained relationships. Shirley and Rose form a sort of friendship, but Rose becomes quite attached to her hostess. Fred gets swept up in the overpowering influence of Stanley. Tempers flare, secrets come out, yet some mysteries remain unsolved.
I enjoyed the mysterious elements to the story, but sometimes I felt that the storytelling was a bit scattered. It was easy to forget about certain characters or plot lines until they were thrust back into the forefront again.
I still can’t quite make up my mind whether I liked Rose’s character or not. I would have liked a clearer explanation of her childhood and parents rather than the random thoughts she spews about them. And her relationship with Fred… I can’t say that I would have made the same decision that she did in the end – but I won’t give away any spoilers here ;). However, I do understand how someone could become enamored with an author like she did with Shirley, but I don’t like the pedestal she put her on. And her relationship with Shirley and Stanley’s children didn’t fit for me either. It didn’t seem authentic – like Merrell was trying too hard to create conflict where there shouldn’t have been.
Merrell attempted to characterize the house in this novel, and it just didn’t work for me. I’ve read stories where authors have executed that technique wonderfully, but it felt like she was trying too hard.
Books about other authors always intrigue me, and despite the negative comments I have mentioned I did enjoy this book. It’s always fun delving into the life of an author – even if it’s fictional. I appreciate what Merrell attempted here, and in some ways she succeeded (like showing the ups and downs of Shirley’s mental state and how her creative process worked). I do recommend this to anyone interested in Shirley Jackson or anyone who likes a slight mystery and some family drama.