... the volume is filled with energy, compassion, crudely drawn and often hilarious cartoons and an almost overbearing affection for both the family Jackson loved and the world she didn’t love quite so much ... In propulsive, uncapitalized sentences, Jackson could make even a random trip to the train station or post office sound like a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, driving through every tossed-off anecdote with a sort of unstoppable, manic passion that must have been both entrancing and exasperating to live with on a daily basis ... Reading these letters is just as enjoyable as reading Jackson’s fictions — filled with the same intensity that entertained her friends and children as well as recurring glimpses of whatever dark demon was riding her into the ground ... These are remarkably narrative letters, as if Jackson couldn’t bear to waste anybody’s time with words unless they were charged with storytelling ... Too often, the publication of an author’s selected letters turns out to be a fairly dry, humorless event. They help establish (or reinforce) the idea that this writer was important (Jackson definitely was). Or they remind us how much trouble they had making enough money to live (Jackson certainly had it) or how little they were appreciated in their lifetimes. Often they help explain why they wrote the particular types of books they wrote (she is refreshingly quiet on this topic.) But for those who already love Jackson’s fiction, the papers feel like a big, unexpected gift — much as each individual letter must have felt to each original recipient. The woman simply couldn’t write a dull sentence. And however much each day may have exhausted her, she didn’t seem to live a single uninteresting one ... Then again, perhaps it’s all in the telling.
... the letters are startlingly vivacious and emphasize her gift for invention, which she used to transform ordinary people and events into magic ... Hyman comes across as petty and cruel, a man who couldn’t remain faithful and also couldn’t seem to forgive the fact it made Jackson unhappy ... Yet Jackson’s descriptions of his antics in her own letters to friends are cutting. She’s so funny that the misery he causes seems to burn off like mist on a hot lawn ... Jackson’s letters are stuffed with wisecracks and little sketches of Hyman looking stupid ... While she makes light of her obnoxious husband, the letters also show her talent for imbuing the innocuous with malign or mysterious intentions. She seems to have been drawn to the macabre throughout her life, but it was as an adult, ensconced in domesticity, that her feel for the gothic intensified and grew more inventive ... The Letters of Shirley Jackson is a glimpse into one of literature’s most contested personal lives and the bargains she struck in order to live it.
Jackson is such merry company in this domestic mode that it feels churlish to complain how little most of the letters in this collection fit the title of Laurence Hyman’s preface: 'Portrait of the Artist at Work.' She does not discuss her writing with most of her correspondents, apart from her agents ... The funny stories about her kids, while as snackable as popcorn, come to feel themselves a bit like currency, or a screen ... Here at least, the inner world that writes gives voice to the outer world that doesn’t.