If books were candies, Shirley (published in June 2014 by Penguin) would be a Belgian chocolate, at least by my ratings. Belgian chocolates, by the way, are my favorite.
The author, Susan Scarf Merrell, cleverly weaves layer upon layer of stories together in her latest novel bringing us mystery, history and psychological tension. We have stories of the individuals, their relationships to one another, mysteries unsolved and local lore that unfold in curious ways.
I will confess that I’ve never read any books by Shirley Jackson, around whom this story revolves, but I almost feel as if I have. And certainly now I will.
Shirley is the fictionalized account of a newlywed couple – 19-year-old mother-to-be Rose and her aspiring professor husband, Fred – who find themselves sharing the house of author Shirley Jackson and her literary critic husband, Stanley Hyman. The characters interact so vividly that, at times, it was easy to forget that this was not all entirely based on reality, but rather the wonderful workings, of Merrell, a masterful storyteller.
For someone who writes, or even just loves to read, this novel satisfies because all of the characters are linked in one way or another to the literary world. Their love of words and books and knowledge seeps out of every page making the reader feel as if we’ve been invited to listen in on private conversations of clever people we rarely get to know. Even the house, itself, feels alive and spills over with stories and intrigue of discussions gone by.
The best part, however, is that at one point I found my Kindle indicating that I was 45% of the way through the book and the next time I checked, I was at 92%. It was that easy to read and that impossible to put down.
Shirley is the first book I’ve read by Susan Scarf Merrell, but it won’t be the last.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Blue Rider Press for an advance copy of Shirley: A Novel.