Myself, I’ve come to think of copyediting as something akin to a dance or a conversation, except that the partners meet only on the page.In the dance, a good copy editor remembers that it’s the author who leads; in the conversation, the wise copy editor knows when to shut up and listen.Walpole in “The Renegade,” whose neighbors offer no end of advice about how she can cure her dog of the habit of killing chickens; Clara Spencer, in “The Tooth,” who rides a bus to New York City for a dentist’s appointment and little by little loses her identity; the unnamed “she” in “The Daemon Lover,” waking up on her wedding day and finding herself playing an increasingly dire game of hide-and-seek with her fiancé, James Harris, whose name’s regular appearance in Jackson stories invariably signifies that an unpleasant situation is about to get much worse; or, my favorite, I think, the disappointed, grasping literary agent in “Elizabeth,” unkindly surnamed Style, who does a decent enough job bullying and conniving against everyone in her threadbare orbit but who is ultimately no match for Jackson herself, who after letting Elizabeth flutter haplessly for twenty-odd pages finally pins her to a board.
In either genre, she wrote with remarkable tautness and economy of style, and her choice of words and phrases was unerring in building a story's mood.”The two stories number less than 1,600 words each, which appealed to my reading sense.
While Charles was first published in Mademoiselle, July 1948, she wrote The Witch in 1949 though I couldn’t trace its original publication.
When it comes to literary daydreaming, I’m not one for those imaginary dinner parties, with artisanally curated assemblages of Great Authors of All Time swapping deft bon mots between courses.
Mostly, I’m sure, I’d end up worrying about Emily Dickinson’s food allergies and regretting having brought Nathanael West and Jacqueline Susann into the same room (hey, you choose your Great Authors, I’ll choose mine). I’m a copy editor by trade—a tinkerer with commas, a corrector of faulty grammar, a watchdog against tics and clichés—and my notion of an ideal tête-a-tête with, say, Edith Wharton would run less toward swapping aperçus over canapés and more toward seeing if I could persuade her to stop loading the dreaded “the fact that” into every third paragraph, as she was wont to do. Scott Fitzgerald’s wineglass I might more valuably let him know that he needn’t hang an adverb on every goddamn speech tag in . But what happens when the copyeditorial fantasy comes to corporeal life and the presumptuous red pencil wielder is faced with a stack of very real pages written by a very real—and very dead—Great Author of All Time, a Great Author of All Time who happens to be his Favorite Author of All Time? I don’t recall when I was first well and truly bewitched by Shirley Jackson.
The boy’s mother is shocked and orders the man to get out of the coach. Her writing is best exemplified in an obituary in The New York Times, August 10, 1965: “Shirley Jackson wrote in two styles.
She could describe the delights and turmoils of ordinary domestic life with detached hilarity; and she could, with cryptic symbolism, write a tenebrous horror story in the Gothic mold in which abnormal behavior seemed perilously ordinary.Dudley’s grisly deadpan greeting of doomed Eleanor—“So there won’t be anyone around if you need help.” “I understand.” “We couldn’t even hear you, in the night.” “I don’t suppose—” “No one could. No one will come any nearer than that.” “I know,” Eleanor said tiredly. I also learned, as I read the novel, reread it almost immediately, and have continued to reread it once a year or so for decades, the wonder of Shirley Jackson’s prose: unfussy, untricky, unhurried. Consider, please, the first paragraph (I almost called it “the celebrated first paragraph,” but I imagine Jackson, who liked adjectives, “particularly odd ones . Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.Note particularly that final comma—simultaneously unnecessary and essential, a fraction of a sliver of a pause in which the reader is given one final chance to put the book down and do something, anything, else—perhaps my favorite piece of punctuation in all of literature.lives on my nightstand, and the rest of her books have a place of honor in my best, glassed-in bookcase (safely behind a door but where I can keep my eye on them).Both the stories are a part of at least two collections that I know of, Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories and The Lottery and Other Stories.The good news is that many of her stories are available online."There was a big old ugly old bad old witch outside."In The Witch, four-year old Johnny is travelling by train with his mother and little sister. And then, just as he is talking about seeing a witch outside the window, an elderly man with white hair and a pleasant face enters the coach and strikes up a conversation with the boy. They are about families, not necessarily happy families, even though they may seem like they are.He is looking out of the window, bored and making childish talk, like “We're on a river…This is a river and we're on it,” or “We're on a bridge over a river,” or “There's a cow. Among other things, he tells Johnny about how much he loved his own little sister before he cut her head off and put it inside a cage where a bear ate it up. There is a disconnect between Laurie and Johnny on one hand and their parents on the other. I have never read Shirley Jackson before and therefore I cannot say much except wonder if that is really how she thinks families can be, or really are.But I still try to get my hand in the game every now and then and choose a manuscript to spend time with, because there’s no pleasure quite like the intimate pleasure of getting cozy with the words.“Intimate” is, I’d say, just the right mot juste: I’m not sure that anyone, perhaps not even its author, ever reads a manuscript as closely as the person whose job it is to help polish it to the best possible version of itself it can be, who not only corrects typing glitches and misspellings but searches out and queries (or simply helpfully repairs) inadvertent rhymes, antecedentless pronouns, subject-verb dissonance, plot continuity problems, overuse of pet words and gestures (you’d be astonished at the amount of murmuring, head shaking, and nodding that goes on in the garden-variety precopyedited novel).