When I saw that a Shirley Jackson novel I hadn’t read qualified for the 1954 Club, I knew I had to read it.
Twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth Richmond is a quiet girl with very little affect. Her mother died a few years ago, and she lives with her aunt Morgen. When she reluctantly seeks help for debilitating headaches, she is referred to Doctor Wright. After a series of baffling hypnosis sessions, Dr. Wright realizes that Elizabeth is exhibiting multiple personalities.
Elizabeth herself is restrained and has difficulty expressing herself. Another personality, which Dr. Wright calls Beth, is sweet and melancholy. Eventually, a third teasing and raunchy personality, Betsy, appears, and after a disastrous trip to New York, there is Bess, obsessed with the money she is due to inherit. Wright believes he can fuse these partial personas into a whole person, but soon they are fighting for their existence.
I don’t know how likely this novel would be considered now by those in the mental health profession, but it seems to be right up there for the 1950s. The novel is both bizarre and a little frightening and weirdly, macabrely funny, both effects which are probably intended. As to the novel’s resolution, well, that’s less likely but entirely 50s in nature.
I can see why some other of Jackson’s works are better known and more widely read, but The Bird’s Nest is still very good.