RIDDANCE: OR: THE SYBIL JOINES VOCATIONAL SCHOOL FOR GHOST SPEAKERS & HEARING-MOUTH CHILDREN BY SHELLEY JACKSON
Shelley Jackson’s postmodern gothic novel, Riddance, covers the lives of headmistress Sybil Joines and her new pupil, turned stenographer, Jane Grandison at the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children in late 19th century Boston. Each woman’s life is marked with travesty from childhood, largely due to their speech impediment, but Sybil is determined to use what society sees as a disability as a tool to communicate with the dead. Throughout the novel, Jackson builds a world of necrophysics where mouth objects and language are explored as avenues of existence and communion between the living and the dead: “Death is not departure but arrival. We are latchkeys kept by wanderers against a future homing. With our last strength, we fit our bodies into this locked world, and turn.”
Later, the loss of a student and murder of a school inspector cause speculation over the school’s competence, moral standards, and the headmistress’s mental health. And as Sybil and Jane become closer, their voices become less distinguishable from each other, as well as the dead they interact with more and more. Jackson’s experimental frame of poetic prose, documentation, and photographs, which describe the minutiae of how her characters experience the world around them, is carefully wrought, showing a deep love of language, both for herself and the world she’s created.
—Review by Jenee Skinner