What an amazing short story.
What a beautiful, lyrical piece of Americana.
Originally published in Harper’s Magazine in the January, 1952 edition with a four-frame illustration.
It was the lead story from ‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ Volume 2 from the wonderful ‘Man’ Literature series that made its entrance into American schools in the early 1970s.
I hated school until the day I discovered these books.
They were banned in some districts due to ‘at that time’ politically incorrect themes.
Shirley Jackson, most famous for her dark piece: ‘The Lottery’, switched gears for this funny slice of family life.
The story has this bizarre precisely mechanical and almost rhythmical cadence, contrast to Lovecraft’s bizarre but equally rhythmical ‘Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ or Roald Dahl’s frenetic narration in ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’.
The subject matter of ‘Grippe’ is common to many, but not usually captured in such campy detail.
I especially like the fact that the parents each had alcohol and cigarettes at their bedsides. Unthinkable today.
Her epic opening line: ‘We are all of us, in our family, very fond of puzzles.’ sets the tone for the rest of the story.
In the end the little blanket disappears and the mystery is gained not solved:
‘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.’ “Shirley Jackson Novels and Stories” at p. 626
‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ Volume 2 is one of the greatest compendiums of 20th Century short American Fiction I have ever seen.
The only ones that rival it are Ray Bradbury’s ‘Illustrated Man’, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome the Monkey House” and Lauren Groff’s “Delicate Edible Birds”.
If you haven’t read this story, if you haven’t read Shirley Jackson, if you haven’t read the ‘Man’ series and you fashion yourself an American writer, or a writer of Americana, please help yourself and do all of the above.