Think of the children


No matter how creeped out readers were by the short story “The Lottery,” its author Shirley Jackson probably wasn't a murderer. Probably. Susan Scarf Merrell's novel Shirley (Blue Rider Press, $25.95) does open up the possibility, though, taking two very real characters with very real foibles—Jackson and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, a professor at Bennington College—and adding a fictional young married couple to their lives. In 1964, Fred and Rose Nemser come to stay with the pair. Fred's a grad student working with Hyman, while the pregnant Rose spends her time with Jackson. As the heavy drinking—and in Jackson's case, pill-popping—heats up, it becomes apparent that Jackson is upset by her husband's womanizing. So is the missing coed just missing, or did Jackson kill her? Billed as a literary thriller, this is a fascinating book, but the real question is why bring real people—who had four children—into it?