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Life Among the Savages

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Shirley Jackson, author of the classic short story "The Lottery", was known for her terse, haunting prose. But the writer possessed another side, one which is delightfully exposed in this hilariously charming memoir of her family's life in rural Vermont. Fans of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, Cheaper by the Dozen, and anything Erma Bombeck ever wrote will find much to recognize in Shirley Jackson's home and neighborhood: children who won't behave, cars that won't start, furnaces that break down, a pugnacious corner bully, household help that never stays, and a patient, capable husband who remains lovingly oblivious to the many thousands of things mothers and wives accomplish every single day.

"Our house," writes Jackson, "is old, noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books." Jackson's literary talents are in evidence everywhere, as is her trenchant, unsentimental wit. Yet there is no mistaking the happiness and love in these pages, which are crowded with the raucous voices of an extraordinary family living a wonderfully ordinary life.

256 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1953

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About the author

Shirley Jackson

311 books8,402 followers
Shirley Jackson was an influential American author. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.

She is best known for her dystopian short story, "The Lottery" (1948), which suggests there is a deeply unsettling underside to bucolic, smalltown America. In her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received." Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse."

Jackson's husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work that "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years." Hyman insisted the darker aspects of Jackson's works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of "personal, even neurotic, fantasies", but that Jackson intended, as "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb", to mirror humanity's Cold War-era fears. Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman's statement that she "was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned The Lottery', and she felt that they at least understood the story".

In 1965, Jackson died of heart failure in her sleep, at her home in North Bennington Vermont, at the age of 48.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,176 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G.
895 reviews2,918 followers
January 25, 2020
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: Vermont

As obsessed as I've been with Shirley Jackson for the past two years of my life, you'd have thought she'd have been my first choice for the state of Vermont.

Foolishly, she wasn't.

Many of Ms. Jackson's novels indicate a New England setting, but most of them could be set just as easily on Mars. Given that, and given how many of her stories I'd already read, I set out to read THREE different novels set in the state of Vermont (that all SUCKED) before finally remembering two Shirley Jackson memoirs I had never touched. I quickly ran back to Shirley.

Personally, I think the two best books coming out of Vermont are The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I don't think Hill House ever declares an official state setting, but Castle does, and they were both written by Jackson from her house in Vermont.

Jackson was not a Vermont native, but it's an aspect of her story that makes her impression of locals even that much more entertaining.

As a child, everything I learned about Vermont came from the show, Newhart, Bob Newhart's sitcom about a couple from NYC who decide to head to Vermont to run an inn. From what I recall of the show, it was almost perpetually snowing, every time a character looked out the window or opened the front door, and everyone who worked at the inn or stayed at the inn indicated the stereotype of the Vermont resident: quirky, stoic, hard-working.

Shirley Jackson does nothing to dispel such stereotypes here in her memoir. She and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, relocated to Vermont after finding NYC unaffordable and they decided to rent a huge house that someone made available to them for an unusually low amount. It is here that the Hymans settle down to make baby after baby after baby after baby and count out their nickels and dimes, with Shirley commenting on her colorful neighbors and her own colorful inability to fit in anywhere properly.

This is a unique snapshot of family life in the early 1950s, and, wow, is it different from today. Shirley and her husband, Stanley, despite being a couple on the rise, have no real clout or social standing in this small New England town. Their neighbors do not give a rat's ass who either of them are, and the residents become almost a cast of characters in their own right, most of them with their hand outstretched to receive their NICKEL for payment.

Money is a constant theme here, or lack of money. The Hymans are broke, the Hymans can't stop making babies (was it the last name??), and the Hymans can't stop smoking those cigarettes or drinking that damn brandy.

You can NOT believe how cheap everything is, or I could not. Granted, it was the early 50s and it was a small town in Vermont, but it is truly staggering to me that you could pay for things like milk, bread and gas with a handful of pennies.

Let me tell you what has NOT changed, though: the invalidation of women. I was positively sickened by how Shirley Jackson, an educated woman, a writer, a mother of multiple children, was treated like a child herself by almost everyone: car mechanics, school teachers, medical staff, plumbers.

Given the fact that I have spent the past seven weeks with a rather threatening medical condition and I have been treated like an idiot by almost every doctor (save two) that I've encountered this month, I can not STAND IT how women are invalidated, especially by medical staff. I have actually been denied important testing this month because the assumption was made that it was just a case of NERVES. I might have been better, weeks ago, had I been taken seriously.

And here was Shirley Jackson, 70 years ago, being checked in by the desk clerk at the hospital, to deliver a baby:

“Age?” she asked. “Sex? Occupation?”
“Writer,” I said.
“Housewife,” she said.
“Writer,” I said.
“I'll just put down housewife,” she said.
. . .
“Husband's name?” she said. “Address? Occupation?”
“Just put down housewife,” I said. “I don't remember his name, really.”
“What?” I said.
“Is your husband the father of this child? Do you have a husband?”
“Please,” I said plaintively, “can I go on upstairs?”
“Well, really,” she said, and sniffed. “You're only having a baby."

I hope you can see, by this example, how Shirley was treated as a woman and how FUNNY she continues to be, no matter the circumstance (I don't remember his name, really!!).

This book reveals Shirley's inspiration for many of her stories, and I smiled like a nutter throughout the whole read.

It's not all inspiring or funny; there are several sections filled with the minutiae of housekeeping, and, as I mentioned above, a fixation on prices and lists, but this is one helluva time capsule and when Shirley Jackson mentions that she tends to make breakfast for the kids while smoking a cigarette, so she can jump-start her day, I just about died of joy.

Turns out, my fantasy is true: The Lottery and Other Stories
Profile Image for emma.
1,864 reviews54.3k followers
November 22, 2021
A fun fact about this book is that it is the funniest, the most interesting, the unique-est, and the most underrated book of all time.

If I need to dedicate my life to forming various legitimate-seeming committees and subcommittees and awards ceremonies and aliases in order to convince people of that fact, so be it. I am willing to make screaming from the rooftops on the subject of this my sole purpose.

This is just the best. I slumped so hard after reading it because I couldn't imagine finding any book that brought me the joy that this brought me - and then I remembered that there's a sequel, and I promptly bought it both in paperback and as an ebook - and then I remembered that Shirley Jackson, in a truly nonsensical and evil act, is no longer with us, and therefore once I read the sequel I will be plumb out of nonfiction memoirs about her demon children growing up in Vermont.

And I just am not prepared to live that lifestyle yet.

Bottom line: Subcommittee-forming it is.


sometimes i go so long without truly enjoying a book from first page to last that i forget how to even rate them.

review to come / 4.5!!!!

tbr review

there's a distinct possibility i'm in love with shirley jackson
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books962 followers
August 17, 2020
Kids do the darndest things, but only a master writer can make child-rearing anecdotes enjoyable for all audiences. For that reason, I actually think Life Among the Savages and its sequel Raising Demons prove Shirley Jackson an historic talent even better than her iconic horror novels. I laughed out loud the whole way through, and I've never raised a child. Much less one in the 1940s and '50s.

This book is also the one I reference every time the writerly issue of adverbs comes up. Brains like Stephen King say "the road to Hell is paved with adverbs," those pesky helping verbs which tend to end in "-ly." The King isn't wrong, except when he is. Novice writers can't hold a candle to the quantity of adverbs crammed into this book, but somehow Shirley Jackson makes them work 100% of the time. In fact, the adverb is often the strongest, funniest word in her sentences. Just another example to show that the only rule to writing is that there are no rules.

It's been exciting to see a wave of new Shirley Jackson enthusiasm in only the last 10 years. Her entire bibliography is back in print when as recently as 2012 it was very difficult to find her lesser-known novels like Hangsaman and The Bird's Nest. Will be interesting to see which of her "forgotten" works emerge as new classics over the next decades. I have my bets on these fabulous parenting memoirs.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
141 reviews72 followers
September 5, 2007
If I could adopt a parent, it would be Shirley Jackson. She was a master of horror. She hated housework, but always had time to whip up a big vat of chocolate pudding. She smoked like a chimney, and (according to her youngest son, who became a nutritionist) consumed a pound of butter a day. She was married to a brilliant man, but managed to keep his gargantuan ego in check with her razor-sharp wit. She was a crazy cat lady and amateur witch. In other words, she is the mom I always wanted.

LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES is among her greatest work. It's an account of her life as a mom and housewife. Nobody can evoke the chaos of a houseful of kids like Jackson. The fact that she managed to write so many great books and stories while raising 4 kids (and an immature husband to boot) is utterly staggering. No wonder the poor woman died at 49. It was probably the first chance she had to rest in ages.

Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews375 followers
March 10, 2021
"Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had 2 children and about 5,000 books. I expect that when we finally overflow and perhaps move out again we will have perhaps 20 children and half a million books."

The above quote is the beginning of this delightfully charming and funny book. Pretty much everything that happens in Shirley Jackson’s “memoir,” which is really a series of anecdotes about family life, is a combination of a hassle and very funny as are Jackson’s reactions to these events. From finding a house to live in (in Vermont) to the car breaking down, the furnace not working, to taking the children shopping for clothes and meeting Santa, Jackson has her hands full. She has a husband but this is the ‘50s so he’s just window dressing. Jackson does all the cooking, cleaning and most of the raising of the kids as wives did back then. One night during which Jackson is forced to play musical beds with her kids and her husband is screamingly funny. Talks with her children are also hilarious (kids say the darndest things) as are the things the kids get up to.

This book is my introduction to Shirley Jackson. No horror or terror here, but it’s nice to have a feel for who Jackson is as a person and what her life was like while she was writing, though there is no mention of writing in this book.

Jackson is observing, dealing with and reporting on the chaos in a humorous, but almost detached voice that I find impossible to describe but is seemingly calm, humored and detached way of saying, " just look at this funny situation, child, etc." I listened to the audio version of this memoir. It was narrated perfectly by Lesa Lockford, who I can only imagine enhanced the story and did such a wonderful job with the detached and humored voice.
Profile Image for Char.
1,679 reviews1,551 followers
June 1, 2017
This is an hilarious autobiographical account of Shirley Jackson and her husband, raising 2, (then 3, then 4) children in a small Vermont town. I listened to the audio version, narrated by Lesa Lockford, and I thought she was excellent.

This has to be the funniest audiobook I've ever heard. It consists of vignettes regarding daily life, such as: a bus trip to the store for school clothes, with 3 children, a doll carriage, a doll, etc..., or a game of musical chairs, except it involves a sick household and beds instead of chairs. Somehow Shirley threads all of these short stories into a narrative that I think most mothers will relate to, even though it took place in the 1940's, (written in the 50's.)

It's difficult to believe that this is the same author of some of my favorite books, (The Haunting of Hill House!!), because the tone and style is so different. What is the same is the master level of story-telling-landing you right in the house among the savages.

4 stars for the story, 1 additional star for the wonderful narration. Highly recommended!

You can buy your copy here: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Among-the-...
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
416 reviews366 followers
May 5, 2021
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson made me laugh. I recently read a description of Shirley Jackson as being the ”Queen of domestic horror” - too right she is!! This book was written in the 1950s and describes her chaotic family life in rural Vermont. Her family consists of her husband, who is never named (frankly, he doesn’t deserve it), and her children, eventually two lads and two girls.

Jackson has this wonderful ability to sound hopelessly frustrated – for example, her experience making pie crust – something she freely admits she doesn’t have the ‘touch’ for, she says:

”……aside from the back-breaking labour and the vicious pie crusts which refuse to brown”

I howled when I read that – how can you attribute such a strong word like vicious to an inanimate object like a pie crust? Well Jackson does, and she pulls it off because we all know what she means.

My favourite character is her hapless husband, I absolutely adore the way Jackson describes him. It comes close to utter contempt. To be frank, he is useless. He passively paddles around while his wife does all the heavy lifting. She describes him as ”A man not easily thrown off balance”, just typing that made me chuckle, what an understated way to describe the lack of utility of this man.

The eldest son, Laurie, asked his father at the dinner table “Who was Aristides the Just?”, his father absently replied “Friend of your mother’s” then said hopefully to his wife “Apple pie?” – Father of the Year I reckon – Bahahaha.

Taking the kids on a shopping trip for clothes was, not unexpectedly, a rough ride. When her son, Laurie, suggested they have lunch she “Looked at the clock with the faint unconscious hope common to all mothers that time will somehow have passed magically away and the next time you look it will be bedtime. It was ten minutes to twelve; a good eight hours to go before the nightly miracle, but a legitimate time for lunch”. One could really sense her desperation for it all to end.

There are so many beautifully written scenes in this book, involving kids with multiple imaginary friends, a motor mechanic taking Shirley for a ride, applying for a loan, bringing the new baby “Barry” home, kids parties – and so much more.

The thing that struck me about this hilarious book is the pace, Jackson writes this in such a frenetic way, the reader can feel the chaos, I know I did. This is my first Shirley Jackson book and I am a massive fan already – anything that makes you laugh and is as relatable as this is just so enjoyable!

I am giving this 4 stars because I need to have somewhere to move when I read her other books, this one is really 4.5.

4 Stars
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,482 followers
January 13, 2020
The illimitable Shirley Jackson is smoking a cigarette in the taxicab on the way to the hospital to deliver her third child. When she arrives, she tells the desk clerk that she’s a writer. "Housewife," says the clerk. "Writer," says Shirley Jackson. The clerk says, "I’ll just put housewife."

She’s the writer of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, among other miracles, and one of the sharpest and eeriest writers of the 20th century. Which makes it funny to read this collection of relatively lighthearted essays about parenting, which are...generally the same as every other essay about parenting. Toys are underfoot. Laundry takes a long time. The children are possibly sociopaths. The ashtrays are overflowing. Jackson tells this long story at one point, sortof a musical beds deal. The children come in to sleep with her and her husband. It’s crowded, so she moves to the guest bed. The dog displaces her from that bed so she moves to a child’s bed, where the child joins her, so she moves again, and on and on. The punchline is that during all of this a blanket disappears into some HillHouseian wormhole, never to be seen again. The funny part is that each time she’s displaced, she picks up her glass of brandy and her cigarettes and her ashtray and brings them with her.

clockwise from right: Shirley Jackson, savage, savage

Jackson’s life was a disaster. She was miserable, an addict, with a husband who kept sleeping with his students and then bragging about it to her. His "lordly expectations of what he was due as the family patriarch were retrograde, even for the time." He controlled the family finances even though, as time went on, Shirley Jackson brought in most of the money. All of her work is "animated by the tension she felt between her socially sanctioned role as a happy homemaker and her vocation as a writer." That’s never laid out more clearly than here - but the tension simmers underneath. Her most famous and forceful novels are still some years away. She doesn’t let on how precarious her home life really is. The eeriest things here are her kids, eerie as kids often are. "On earth, what are you doing?" she overhears her daughter singing. "On earth, what are you doing? I am going splickety-splot." Well, yes. I love many writers but if you come over and gaze at my bookshelves and say something like "What should I read?" I will foist Shirley Jackson on you first. Because here we are on earth going splickety-splot, and that’s a good song.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
760 reviews565 followers
January 20, 2022
Why I chose to read this book:
I heard that this book by Shirley Jackson was witty, funny and warm, and since I enjoy her writing, I thought that I would take a listen for my self-proclaimed Humor Month.

1. I highly related to her anecdote about having a bat flying around her house! I still get the shivers thinking about my incident!;
2. as a teacher, I had to chuckle at her son, Lawrence's stories about Charles, a "bad boy" in Laurie's nursery school class (I quickly figured out where that story was going!), and her daughter, Joanne's constant "Mrs. Skinner says..." that I'm sure drives many parents crazy!; and,
3. her memories of her hospital stay while delivering her third child were worthy of laughter!

1. At times, Jackson's reminisces sounded pompous and unlikeable. She comes across as sounding like a pushover with her children and a "helicopter parent" to others. Many times, I thought her children sounded irritating at the least and downright rude at the most; and,
2. some mindless conversations that she shared would drone on and on without having any sense or humor to them.

Personally, I wouldn't put Jackson in the same category as Erma Bombeck, but she does write a wicked horror story!
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,298 reviews450 followers
June 20, 2020
Right up front I will admit to never having read a Shirley Jackson novel. "The Lottery" was a short story assigned in school, but that's it. I'm not a fan of horror, even when it's well written. But memoir I can get behind, especially when it's funny.

This was screamingly funny. The conversations with her children, the things they did, her reactions to them, dealing with housework and meal preparation and budgeting money; the things housewives do day after day, in her hands sounds not only doable, but fun. With never a word about finding time to write! I'm moving straight from this one to the second book, "Raising Demons", which picks up right where this left off.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,545 reviews601 followers
January 13, 2022
For the first couple hours of listening to this light-hearted memoir, I was fascinated to learn about Shirley Jackson as a frazzled mother. It seemed so incongruous that she wrote her dark stories and novels in the midst of such a mundane family life! But after a while I started tuning out - overloaded with cute anecdotes about her children's antics.
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews143 followers
May 7, 2019
"OUR HOUSE is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books".

On Naming of names
It was when Jannie was very nearly five that the question of her name became desperately important. When she was born her father wanted to name her Jean and I wanted to name her Anne, and we compromised upon an arbitrary Joanne, although I frequently call her Anne and her father very often calls her Jean. Her brother calls her Honey, Sis, and Dopey, Sally calls her Nannie, and she calls herself, variously, Jean, Jane, Anne, Linda, Barbara, Estelle, Josephine, Geraldine, Sarah, Sally, Laura, Margaret, Marilyn, Susan, and—imposingly—Mrs. Ellenoy. The second Mrs. Ellenoy.
The former Mrs. Ellenoy—I have this straight from my daughter—was a lovely woman, mother of seven daughters, all named Martha, and she and Mr. Ellenoy used to be very angry with one another, until one day they grew so very angry that they up and killed each other with swords. As a result my daughter is the new Mrs. Ellenoy and has inherited all the Marthas as stepdaughters. When she is not named Jean, Linda, Barbara, Sally, and so on, but is being Mrs. Ellenoy, her daughters are allowed to assume these names, so that there is a constant bewildering shifting of names among them, and it is sometimes very difficult to remember whether you are addressing Janey Ellenoy or a small girl with seven daughters named Martha.

I know what they all look like, of course. The dog has four feet and is far larger than the cats, who operate as a two-part unit anyway. The boy is dirty and wears a disgraceful pair of blue jeans. The father looks worried and a little bit overwhelmed.
The older daughter is larger than the younger daughter, although there is an uncanny shifting of identity there, since the smaller wears the clothes the larger wore a short while before, and they both have blond curls and blue eyes. But as to trying to remember, for instance, which two out of three have already had chicken pox and which one was innoculated for whooping cough and whether any given one of them got all three prescribed injections or one of them got nine, and, worst, which of the Ellenoy girls got spanked for breaking Laurence’s six-shooter and who told on her, I go all to pieces.

A new family member arrives from the hospital

Sally finally said, “What is it?”

“It’s a baby,” said their father, with an edge of nervousness to his voice, “it’s a baby boy and its name is Barry.”

“What’s a baby?” Sally asked me.

“It’s pretty small,” Laurie said doubtfully. “Is that the best you could get?”

“I tried to get another, a bigger one,” I said with irritation, “but the doctor said this was the only one left.”

“My goodness,” said Jannie, “what are we going to do with that?”

Life among the Savages refers to the author's family, who act with strange overly civilized behavior. This makes for a very funny tale.


Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,449 reviews473 followers
December 25, 2020
Shirley Jackson and her husband had four kids. Apparently her deep understanding of the human psyche extends just as well into humor as it does into horror.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,061 reviews496 followers
January 4, 2022
This is a memoir about she and her husband and their 3 (by the end of the memoir 4) children. It’s humorous but a bit dated for me. It did bring back some memories because I was a child growing up during that same time period.

I believe all of the chapters were short stories and had been published previously in such periodicals as Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Mademoiselle.

Throughout the memoir are mentions of cigarettes and ashtrays. She must have smoked like a chimney – well I know she did. There is also mention of candy cigarettes and that did trigger memories. I remember them and how I liked to eat them...they were pure sugar but there was some pleasant flavoring infused in the tooth-rotting stuff. But I can’t remember exactly what it was. I don’t think it was peppermint...oops I am getting off the subject, aren’t I? 😬 😉

There is another memoir she wrote after this, ‘Raising Demons’.
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
1,030 reviews318 followers
January 30, 2023

Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about 5000 books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps 20 children and easily half a million books.

“Life Among the Savages” comprova que quem sai aos seus não degenera, e se Shirley Jackson é conhecida pela sua imaginação prodigiosa, os filhos não lhe ficam atrás, com a agravante de a aplicarem não à literatura ficcionada mas ao dia-a-dia. Os Jackson são, basicamente, uma família muito doida, onde não faltam um cão, gatos e todo o tipo de empregadas temporárias.
Quando o contrato de arrendamento de Shirley Jackson termina, ela muda-se para uma enorme e velha casa no Vermont, com o marido e os dois filhos, Laurie e Jennie, duas crianças traquinas e expansivas. Algum tempo depois, nasce Sally, que segue as pisadas dos irmãos a fazer a cabeça da mãe em água, e o livro termina com Shirley a chegar da maternidade com Barry, que eu nem quero imaginar que tipo de selvagem virá a ser. Talvez descubra um dia na sequela, “Raising Demons”.

I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and—as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life, but then I have had to make a good many compromises, all told.

Quem tem amigos ou parentes com filhos, e eu contra mim falo, já foi decerto brindado com as intermináveis gracinhas e os ditos precoces dos seus rebentos que, no fundo, só interessam aos pais babados. “Life Among the Savages” vive bastante desses momentos, quando o que eu queria era mais a perspectiva da mãe, geralmente paciente e condescendente, mas também compreensivelmente a perder as estribeiras. São inúmeros os episódios de tropelias e insolências que a autora aqui conta, que tornam a narrativa ligeiramente irritante e inverosímil, quando, na verdade, foi Shirley Jackson como mãe, mulher e dona-de-casa que fez as minhas delícias.

Sentimental people keep insisting that women go on to have a third baby because they love babies, and cynical people seem to maintain that a woman with two healthy, active children around the house will do anything for ten quiet days in the hospital; my own position is somewhere between the two, but I acknowledge that it leans toward the latter.

Quem não soubesse que ela era escritora, por esta obra nunca o descobriria, pois, exceptuando uma ocasião em que tem de revelar a sua profissão, não há uma única referência ao ato de escrita nem um queixume à falta de tempo ou espaço para exercer o seu ofício, dedicando-se antes a tarefas como cuidar da casa, fazer bolos, remendar e até bordar, sempre com os três filhos como ruído de fundo.

I spent more time with Sally than with anyone else, and began to find that a large part of my daily activity was accompanied by Sally’s tuneful and unceasing conversation; part song, part story, part uncomplimentary editorial comment.
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,436 reviews4,036 followers
August 28, 2021
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3.5 stars

Life Among the Savages is a collection of comic essays by Shirley Jackson originally published in women’s magazines. Rather than a memoir Life Among the Savages reads as a series of episodes focusing on Jackson's chaotic family life: children squabbling, disagreements with other parents, daily chores, and family dinners. Jackson renders the cacophony of her family, tinging everyday activities or conversations with a does of absurdity. Her children's back and forth are as entertaining as they are bewildering:
“That shirt’s no good,” Laurie said.
“It is so,” Jannie said.
“It is not,” Laurie said.
“It is so,” Jannie said.
“It is not,” Laurie said.
“Children,” I called, my voice a little louder than it usually is at only nine in the morning. “Please stop squabbling and get dressed.”
“Laurie started it,” Jannie called back.
“Jannie started it,” Laurie called.”

Jackson very much focuses on the lightest aspects of her life, painting herself as a busy mother of three, and focusing her attention to her children's antics as opposed to herself. It was lovely to read the way in which she could be amused by their nonsense or misdeeds (Jannie's imaginary daughters were a joy to read of). There were also plenty of elements that brought to mind her fictional work or in some way made me wonder whether they somehow influenced her writing: the broken step, the creepy taxi driver, the nosy locals, Laurie's 'schoolmate' Charles (whose name enters the family lexicon, “With the third week of kindergarten Charles was an institution in our family; Jannie was being a Charles when she cried all afternoon; Laurie did a Charles when he filled his wagon full of mud and pulled it through the kitchen; even my husband, when he caught his elbow in the telephone cord and pulled telephone, ashtray, and a bowl of flowers off the table, said, after the first minute, “Looks like Charles.”). I was delighted by the way in which Jackson would write about her house.

Life Among the Savages will definitely appeal to those who enjoy Jackson's particular brand of humour.

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
May 25, 2020

Even as a kid, I found this book funny, even laugh-out-loud funny, and laughing out loud while reading is something I rarely do. The first time I read it (and its sequel), I was struck by the differences of 1940s life from my own; this time I noted the similarities.

Early readers of Jackson’s so-called domestic writings and early fans of her novels and short stories were two separate groups, and both had a hard time reconciling the fact that the writer of both was the same person. I never found that an issue. Don’t we all possess at least two sides? While Jackson’s outer life, or at least a version of it, was on display in this book and its sequel, her inner life fueled her novels and short stories. That a loving mother and housewife could have such depths was a mighty scary thing for her critics to confront.
Profile Image for Christopher.
659 reviews213 followers
January 17, 2014
I've read Shirley Jackson at the peak of her form: We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I've read Shirley Jackson at her scariest: The Haunting of Hill House.

I've read Shirley Jackson at her most psychologically incisive: The Bird's Nest.

Now I've read Shirley Jackson at her funniest. Life Among the Savages is a charming memoir of the author's domestic life. As the title implies, she is the only civilized being in the midst of an ever-increasing number of children and a husband who—well, he is a grown man, which is the equivalent of an ungrown man.

Here we see the author in her everyday life, a wrangler of children and household chores. There really is nothing at all remarkable about what goes on in these pages; the charm and the interest lies in the telling. Jackson possesses a dry wit that she doses out in plenty.

This book is episodic rather than continuous. There's an episode in which a trip to the bank leads to the children sitting on Santa's lap, which leads to Santa promising all sorts of presents to the children which the author cannot afford (ten points if you can guess who was dressed up as Santa.) Then there's another in which the eldest boy returns home from school everyday to report the exploits of a very ill-behaved boy in his class. Imagine the author's surprise when she attends a parent-teacher conference and discovers the true identity of the ne'er-do-well...

There's a lot about this book that feels like a really great television sitcom. Analogy-wise, consider this... Shirley Jackson:her children::Liz Lemon:the employees of TGS (i.e. 30 Rock). This book is imminently translatable to the small screen and I beg someone to do it. For me, please.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews121 followers
January 18, 2019
Here's a very funny novel (actually, a compilation of interlinked stories) about a mommy, a daddy, and a powerhouse-full of children and assorted pets who give up Manhattan's crowded post-World War II real estate market for the dubious comforts of life in snowy Vermont. The author is Shirley Jackson, usually associated with macabre stories and novels like "The Lottery" and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES is presented as fiction, but many of the incidents in this book seem to have been lifted out of real life in rural Vermont, with her four kids and husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. There's a good chance that when the narrator says things like "I was in bed with a mystery" she meant one she was writing, not reading. And the all-female college hubby teaches at just happens to be Bennington.

But with Shirley Jackson at the wheel, there's usually a shiv or a shiver underneath the domestic goings-on. One housekeeper frosts her cookies with "Repent, Sinner"; another borrows a few bucks and flees town with her felon boyfriend. Another story has the kids all excited about their next visit to "Pudge" over the hill, where the children live beneath the water of the pond and an afternoon visit might take years. . .

Sadly, due to multiple addictions to liquor, smoking, pills and even chocolate (obesity), not to mention likely overwork, the real Shirley Jackson did not live to see fifty. How fortunate we are to have not only her scary work but this supremely funny book and its sequel, Raising Demons.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,785 reviews672 followers
May 12, 2011
Not in the class of Erma Bombeck, not even Peg Bracken. Jackson intends to evoke humor from her family as they grow up in the New England hinterlands but this isn't her forte. She hits the right note on only a few situations, such as the last moments of her second pregnancy. Otherwise, I winced more than smiled.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book164 followers
December 10, 2022
“I discovered that my former usual attitude of timid acquiescence was not consistent with someone who could drive a car, so I fell gradually into a new personality, swashbuckling and brazen, with a cigarette usually hanging out of one corner of my mouth because I had to keep both hands on the wheel.”

Given her fiction, it’s not surprising that there were many sides to Shirley Jackson. This book, about moving from New York and raising her children in Vermont, tells of her mommy side. I found it shocking to think she was a doting mother and docile housewife while writing The Lottery, The Road Through the Wall, and Hangsaman. But she was, and you see bits of where she got her ideas in this memoir. For example, since I recently read The Sundial, this jumped out at me, about taking her daughter to a birthday party and being intimidated by the house:

“We were driving past terraced lawns, rich with ornamental trees and graveled walks; I saw a sundial and what may have been a swimming pool. Above us, on top of the hill, the house looked like someone’s dream of a country club, with picture windows and fieldstone and gabled roofs.”

This book shows domestic life through Shirley’s unique viewpoint, and it’s an eye-opening window into the times. Written in 1948, you can see the post-war obsession with money and concern about what the neighbors might think. Some other little details that might shock younger readers:
*Making pudding from a box for the family’s dessert brought a sense of accomplishment
*People smoked in hospitals--including about-to-deliver mothers
*Women couldn’t escape the label of housewife, no matter how individually successful they were
*You could go to the bank and just ask for money when you needed it (but this is why what the neighbors think of you was important)

Mostly, I thought of my mom while reading. I would never have thought of comparing her with Shirley Jackson (except for the fact they both believed in ghosts), but they definitely shared some things on the domestic side. Like Shirley, my mom didn’t care much about what other people thought, but the times required her to act as if she did. My mom and Shirley were expected to be domestic goddesses, even if their real interests were their work and reading all those books--the ones that lined the walls in our house as they did in Shirley’s. And I got the feeling Shirley got a kick out of her children in the same way my mom did.

I just wish, instead of that set of Erma Bombeck books I gave my mom long ago that she never read, I would have given her this book. She would have loved it.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book557 followers
December 5, 2022
I didn’t care if it was the last house in the town, or in the world for that matter, and I didn’t care if it meant living in the park, I was not going to live in a house with two petrified doughnuts. The following week however we received a letter from Mr. Fielding, saying that the house was being fixed up, and did we feel that fifty dollars a month was too much rent.

“You seem to have taken the house,” I said, unjustly, to my husband.

“It’s probably because we went inside,” he said. “No one else has ever gone inside and that probably constitutes a lease.”

Shirley Jackson’s comic memoir of moving from New York City to a stately old house in Vermont, life in a small town, and the raising of her children there. Many of the anecdotes are about the children, some of which were delightful and some of which were almost annoying. At one time I truly did want to scream at little Sally “shut up”. I suspect her mother felt much the same.

House on Prospect Street
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 12 books2,148 followers
March 24, 2021
I'd read this snippet of dialogue before, but hadn't realises it came from this book, which is a collection of family pieces Jackson wrote for women's magazines in the '40s and '50s. Jackson is being admitted into hospital for the birth of her third child:
"Name?" the desk clerk said to me politely, her pencil poised.
"Name" I said vaguely. I remembered, and told her.
"Age?" she asked. "Sex? Occupation?"
"Writer," I said.
"Housewife," she said.
"Writer," I said.
"I'll just put down housewife," she said.
. . .
"Husband's name?" she said. "Address? Occupation?"
"Just put down housewife," I said.

The whole thing is wonderful. Jackson is at her most observant and funniest. I'm sure it's a highly idealised view of her life with young children (in fact having read both biographies about Jackson, I'd say it definitely is), but there are just so many perfect moments, so acutely observed.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books763 followers
February 22, 2022
Re-read 2/21/22: This was part of my ongoing quest to find audiobooks to listen to while I craft. I first tried Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daisies, which I also like, but the narrator's voice was so cute and perky I couldn't take it. This one, Lesa Lockford, had a really good range and delivery--much more satisfying.

This really is a window into a lost world: a world in which pregnant women smoke cigarettes, three-year-old children do headstands in the backseat of a moving car, and the word "pregnant" is not yet acceptable language. Jackson's life was not as quirky-sweet as it's presented here, but I'm willing to accept things as she sees them because she's clever and insightful. I love the story of Charles and "the night we all had grippe" and her account of the birth of her third child. This book has become something of a comfort read for me, and the audiobook was just as satisfying.

Read 10/20/16: I think Shirley Jackson must be my kindred spirit. She's as bad a cook as I am and resorts to many of the same tricks I did to keep my brood of four under control. It's hard to see in this funny, clever, sometimes overwhelmed housewife the author of The Haunting of Hill House and "The Lottery." On the other hand, who else would be in a position to see the best and the worst of people than a woman living in a small Vermont town? Subject matter aside, Jackson's unique style is the same here as in her many short stories, and I like to picture her tapping away at her typewriter, surrounded by children, working out a dark and terrifying story.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,693 reviews595 followers
October 7, 2020
Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors and so I was intrigued to give this a try, as it is so different from her usual work. This collection is from lightly fictionalised magazine pieces, written about her family life in the 1950's, with (by the end of the book) four children and husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman.

This is the 1950's so parenting was a little more relaxed then, to put it lightly. No seat belts, cigarettes packed as part of your maternity bag, and other such facts, put this firmly in the past. Other stories, though, are still quite resonant. Like the time when Shirley's son comes home, claiming to have been attacked by another boy and she is pushed into calling the boys mother. After a fraught argument, the two find themselves standing the store the next morning and immediately agree at who was really at fault.

Although this shows a totally different side to Shirley Jackson, she retains her sharp wit in this. As when discussing how hopeless she was at housework and how utterly useless she was at getting help. One girl responded to, "an ad I put in the paper, and someone apparently read it to Hope," the author slyly remarks. Very Jackson.

From moving house, to a trip to a department store, bats, cats and chipmunks, I adored this book. I am pleased that the second book of memoirs, "Raising Demons," is going to be re-published next year on kindle and look forward to reading on. Shirley Jackson never fails to delight me.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,675 followers
August 28, 2015
I read this years ago, either before I had kids, or when I just had the one. It's hilarious, but also a fascinating look, as a mother, into another time. A time when women sat there smoking and drinking coffee on the day they were headed into the hospital to give birth. A time when you put your daughter in an organdy party dress, white frilled socks, and white gloves to go to a birthday party, and were yourself embarrassed to realize that you were wearing jeans when you met the birthday girl's mother.

I love seeing how similar and different Shirley Jackson's fiction and nonfiction is. They live in a strange crumbling house. Her children's imaginary friends are presenting in an almost sinister fashion. She obviously loves her children, but she's not a natural housekeeper or cook, and makes no apologies for it. You can see shades of these things in her fiction, you can see the crumbling house taking a darker turn, the imaginary friends . . . but then it's all so hilarious when she recounts it here as well. For instance: her daughter Jannie went through a phase where she insisted on being called the SECOND Mrs. Ellenoy. At the age of five, she presented herself as a widow with seven stepdaughters. The stepdaughters all had names and personalities, and everyone in the family knew them and acknowledged them. Creepy and yet hilarious that she didn't just pretend to be a mother with feisty daughters, but the stepmother, with seven daughters . . . That's really one of my favorite things. That and Charles. If you don't know the story about Charles, you really just should read this. Whether or not you have kids, or like The Lottery, you just should read this book.

Profile Image for Annie.
95 reviews
April 26, 2022
I don't know what I had expected of Shirley Jackson's domestic memoir. Heartfelt authenticity, sure. A characteristic tone that is sensible instead of sentimental, of course. But it wasn't such endearing humour. I do wish it was longer - even though the vignettes are about the mundane aspects of daily life (albeit with serious moments that shed light on her family's financial struggles), Shirley presents them in such a gripping, charming way.
Profile Image for Ellis.
1,216 reviews137 followers
November 30, 2018
Simultaneously laugh out loud funny and so dated that it made me cringe, this is a delightful good time if you can get past the fact that Jackson's husband is completely unable to do any sort of domestic task or discipline his children edited to add: and was also apparently cheating on Shirley for most of their marriage.
Profile Image for Renee.
201 reviews21 followers
January 27, 2018
"Name?" The desk clerk said to me politely... "Age?" She asked..."Occupation?"

"Writer," I said.

"Housewife," she said.

"Writer," I said.

"I'll just put down housewife, she said.

"Husband's name?" She said..."Occupation?"

"Just put down housewife," I said.

My first delve into Shirley Jackson's non-fiction was beyond satisfying. I've read her horror, as well as Ruth Ware's fantastic biography, and now, her humour. Life Among the Savages is a sort of memoir, Jackson reflecting on the mundanity of domestic life as well as raising her children - first two, then three, and by the end of the book, four.

It's comforting to know that this book, first published in 1953, still rings true today. As a mom to two young boys, I often feel like I'm living among savages! Jackson's characteristic dry wit turns moments of utter chaos into something many parents will relate to. Parenting is ruthless, absurd, challenging, rewarding, and the hardest work I've ever done - but I wouldn't change anything about it. I only wish Jackson went a little deeper into the challenges of being a working mother, all while fulfilling the expected wifely duties; it's bubbling there beneath the surface, but she never goes all the way in.

Those without kids can still enjoy this book - Jackson's storytelling is as perfect here is it is in her fiction. These stories may be true or may be embellished, we'll never know. Either way, this is a worthy read for any Jackson fan and I can't wait to dig into Raising Demons, this book's successor.

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