Short story: “Paranoia”

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“Paranoia,” by Shirley Jackson

Thought to have been written in the forties; published posthumously in the New Yorker on August 5th, 2013 (subscribers can read here)

Something like 3 and 1/3 New Yorker pages; I would guess well under 2,000 words

This is classic Shirley Jackson. Maybe a little too classic. Anyone who’s read much of her work will know where this is going about a third of the way through, and will guess the twist at the beginning of the final scene. Actually, the title itself gives away most of the plot. I would have titled it something more like “One Ordinary Evening, with Chocolates.” It’s a good, creepy piece, but slight, especially compared to Jackson’s best stories.

Edited to add: I was surprised to hear Ruth Franklin (?) describe the twist ending as “very unusual for Jackson’s work” until she clarified, saying that Jackson “might not have seen it as exactly finished the way it is, with the ending tied up so nicely. It feels finished, but that’s not the way a Shirley Jackson story is supposed to finish. We’re supposed to be in the dark, trying to figure out what actually happened.” (Interview here.) That’s true, I think. It’s part of what makes the story feel slight to me. The ending could be called ambiguous, but unlike certain other Shirley Jackson endings, it answers more questions than it raises.

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