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// Shirley Jackson’s most famous novel is The Haunting of Hill House. It’s about a sick house—sick with relentless reality, with the relentless fact of its realness. There is the realness of child abuse, of abusive religion, of the basic fact of family. There is the realness of relentless child care, the care of elderly parents, of diminishing returns. There is the reality of loneliness. There is the reality of a hand belonging to—who knows—cold-gripping yours at night for lack of a body of its own, a body of fiction, a body of magic, a body of dreams. Shirley Jackson writes in The Haunting of Hill House’s opening paragraph, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” The house’s illness comes from its abolition of imagination. Even the art, the carefully staged furniture, the fabrics, the damasks and toiles, the gourmet kitchen and well-stocked linen closet—are meant to induce absolute reality. The house’s horror isn’t its history but its lack of one. It is the approximation of a life lived, of a dollhouse no one plays with. It typifies repressed rage or—not even rage—disappointment. Eleanor in Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House speaks the ill house’s language when no one else seems able. They’re reading the signs differently, but to Eleanor, the house is just misunderstood. The house is just clinically depressed. The house is just a droopy teenager without sense of direction or a bellicose college roommate lying moribund on her bed when you get home, so you ask, What’s 40| PHOEBE 48.2

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