Monday, May 9, 2011

"The Night We All Had Grippe" by Shirley Jackson


Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) is not generally associated with humor. "The Lottery", her most famous story, is nothing short of gruesome, and funny isn't an adjective I'd choose to describe We Have Always Lived In The Castle either.  "The Night We All Had Grippe" introduces a side of Shirley Jackson I had never imagined.

We begin with a family that is 'very fond of puzzles'. The mother, our narrator, explains The Great Grippe Mystery and asks the reader's help in trying to figure out what has become of a blanket (as they are 'very short of blankets').

A detailed description of the floor-plan, bedroom furniture arrangement, bedtime drink preferences, color of bedding and ambient temperature in each room follows. It reads like a word problem from grade school math - the kind that's filled with confusing, extraneous information. I'm already smiling at this point.

The entire family becomes sick at the same time (an all to familiar occurrence, at least around here).
"In our family, we take ill in different manners; my husband is extremely annoyed at the whole procedure, and is convinced that his being sick is someone else's fault, Laurie tends to become a little lightheaded and strew handkerchiefs around his room, Jannie coughs and coughs, the baby turns bright red, and I suffer in stoical silence, so long as everyone knows clearly that I am sick. We are each of us privately convinced that our own ailment is far more severe than anyone else's."
A night of musical beds ensues as blankets, pillows, and nightstand supplies move from room to room with their owner. This section had me literally laughing out loud.

The story ends with a summation of the problem:
"The puzzle, is, of course, what became of the blanket from Baby's bed? I took it off her crib and put it on the bottom half of the double-decker, but the dog did not have it when when he woke up, and neither did any of the other beds. It was a blue-patterned patchwork blanket, and has not been seen since, and I would most particularly like to know where it got to. As I say, we are very short of blankets."
"The Night We All Had Grippe" was originally published in Harper's in 1952 and collected in Come Along With Me in 1968. It is this week's featured story from Library of America and can be read in its entirety here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

20 comments:

  1. Loved this story. I was laughing out loud.

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  2. I haven't heard of this story before! I knew that Jackson had a humorous side after reading several chapters from her book Life Among the Savages. I will look up a copy of this story.

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  3. I can't imagine Shirley Jackson being funny but this review itself is very amusing.

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  4. Julie - I loved it, too. Was talking to another blogger on twitter last night and she said "Charles" was funny, too.

    Vasilly - I haven't heard of Life Among the Savages. Will look it up now - thanks!

    E.L. Fay - I couldn't believe it either. The story is only 6 pages long if you'd like to read it. Jackson's story "Charles" is supposed to be funny, too. Who knew??

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  5. Two reviews of this story today. Especially interesting since I got a different impression from both your reviews-- though I think the consensus is that it's funny.

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  6. I have this marked to read as well.

    I read a good dark short: http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2011/05/stolpestad-by-william-lychack.html

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  7. I haven't read this one but it sounds like one I'd enjoy.

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  8. John Mutford - Definitely funny! I enjoyed reading Julie's take, too.

    Teddy Rose - I think you'll like this.... the humor really took me by surprise.

    Diane - I think you would, too - short and comical!

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  9. Interesting review. I haven't ready any Shirley Jackson before. The story does soudn quite funny.

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  10. Sounds funny. I had never heard of it before.

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  11. I haven't read this story yet, but I can actually imagine that she'd be someone who would do humour very well. Thank you so much for the link - I'll make sure to read it later.

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  12. Loni - The Lottery is her most well-known story, but I really liked this one.

    Carolsnotebook - It's funny and very short. I think you'll like it.

    Nymeth - Hope you like it! I l was talking to another blogger on twitter a couple of nights ago and she told me "Charles" is also very funny.

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  13. I'm finding a whole new appreciation for Short Stories since so many of my blogging friends write of good ones. Shirley Jackson is a wonderful writer, and I'm interested to know that this particular work of hers wasn't 'gruesome'. Sometimes, we're just not in the mood for that kind of thing, you know? :)

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  14. I laughed out loud too. I swear I lived this story several times when my children were young and at home. With this one and the story, Charles, Shirley Jackson redeemed herself in my mind after reading The Lottery. I'm glad you enjoyed this one too.

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  15. Well, it is true that I would not associate Shirley Jackson with humor - but I have loved everything that I have read of hers so far - so this will definitely go on the list as well.

    I am hoping to get back into the reading routine again soon - and I would like to cultivate my appreciation of short stories. I think I might like to try to read one a night before going to bed.

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  16. I'm not familiar with this author, so this might be a good introduction. Thanks!

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  17. Bellezza - Short stories have become an important part of my reading over the last couple of years, and I have my blogging friends to thank for it, too.

    Margot - Thanks again for introducing me to the Library of America stories of the week. I've enjoyed all of them so far!

    Molly - Reading a short story sometimes provides a sense of accomplishment (especially on more difficult days)... it's nice to complete something.

    Georgia Girls - This is a quick, fun story. I think you'd like it!

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  19. That one does sound funny!! I hate it when the bug strikes us all at one time!

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  20. Staci - It's happened one too many times around here, too. I think that makes the story even funnier.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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