Friday, February 25, 2011

A Cup of Stars

"Eleanor looked up, surprised; the little girl was sliding back in her chair, sullenly refusing her milk, while her father frowned and her brother giggled and her mother said calmly, 'She wants her cup of stars.'

Indeed yes, Eleanor thought; indeed, so do I; a cup of stars, of course.

'Her little cup,' the mother was explaining, smiling apologetically at the waitress, who was thunderstruck at the thought that the mill's good country milk was not rich enough for the little girl. 'It has stars in the bottom, and she always drinks her milk from it at home. She calls it her cup of stars because she can see the stars while she drinks her milk.' The waitress nodded, unconvinced, and the mother told the little girl, 'You'll have your milk from your cup of stars tonight when we get home. But just for now, just to be a very good little girl, will you take a little milk from this glass?'

Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don't do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl."*

— Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House)

Every time I take a trip I try to do something that I've never done before.

Until a few weeks ago, I had never read a scary book. So knowing that I'd be, for better or for worse, with my parents 'round the clock for 10 days seemed the perfect opportunity to try to scare the pants of myself because, no matter how old you are, parents make monsters go away.

I went to A Novel Idea Bookstore and bought a used copy of The Haunting of Hill House. It met my criteria, it is: short, the premise to one of the greatest scary movies of all time, and by an author I trust implicitly to unnerve but not scare me out of my wits.

I wasn't disappointed. The book is character driven, psychological, and beautifully written. It's a work of terror, not horror. Horror relies on an external element to spook you, terror creeps innocuously and works from the inside out to make you afraid. Horror is a hand suddenly reaching from off screen to grab you, terror makes you inexplicably afraid of your own hand.

Jackson gives us Eleanor as our unreliable narrator. She is dull and pathologically insecure to the extent that, having no hue of its own, her personality takes on the color of all the other characters in the story. Indeed, Jackson takes her from the one-dimensional character we first meet all the way to a compendium of the experiences, events, and other characters—perhaps even the house itself—by the conclusion of the book.

Perhaps Jackson's success lies in the fact that she elevates the typical haunted house genre and makes it unique unto itself. To elaborate on the plot would be to spoil the fun; suffice it to say that this is a good book that becomes great as it gradually imbeds itself in your imagination.

*The passage at the beginning of this post is my favorite part of the book. Eleanor is a causal observer of this incident at a diner. The line, "Indeed yes, Eleanor thought; indeed, so do I; a cup of stars, of course," is amazing.
Without any context whatsoever, Eleanor childishly agrees that she too wants a cup of stars. Because of her suppressed and sheltered upbringing, Eleanor forgets herself and subconsciously reaches for her lost childhood. By the end of this excerpt, Eleanor is adamant that the little girl exhibit stubbornness and strength. It's a wish more for the little girl Eleanor harbors inside than for the little girl she is witnessing in this scene.

1 comment:

Doria said...

that passage caught my attention as well, very well written, Im not into scary novels tho :( Enjoy!