“Mrs. Melville Makes a Purchase” – Shirley Jackson

A couple years ago I purchased an e-copy (nook version) of “Just an Ordinary Day” a (posthumous) book of Shirley Jackson short stories, “previously unpublished and uncollected.” I made the purchase after reading one of the stories in The New Yorker (“Paranoia” – see my prior post about that story here). I also had assigned another story from this collection to my Deal Me In challenge deck of cards as the King of Hearts, which I drew this morning for week 29 of Deal Me In 2015.

I’m one of those people who tries to always follow the golden rule when dealing with others. Treating them as I would hope to be treated myself. I’m betting most of you reading this are the same type of people (thankfully, most people in general are too). Mrs. Melville, the title character of this Shirley Jackson story, is NOT one of those type of people. Jackson makes us dislike Mrs. Melville immediately as, while shopping for a blouse in a department store, Melville sighs “How long do I have to wait for service here?” to a salesgirl who is helping another customer. I was happy to see the salesgirl eventually start “giving it back” to Mrs. Melville though, when she notes that she doesn’t have Mrs. Melville’s desired purchase in pink or chartreuse, but that “I have the black. Most large figures prefer the black.” (Heh heh)

Eventually Mrs. Melville completes a purchase and with barely muted indignation seeks out the store’s Complaint Department, which the salesgirl helpfully informs her is on the ninth floor. This is just the beginning of Mrs. Melville’s retail adventures, though, as she stops for lunch on the fifth floor (as you might guess, she’s dissatisfied with her server and food there too – we are seeing a pattern here) and, after seeing a mysterious woman, realizes she’s lost the package with her purchase…

This was a good story, and I enjoyed it (who doesn’t like to see snobs getting their comeuppance?), but I don’t think it’s up to the high standards of Jackson’s other work. I’m sure I’ll still read the other stories in this book eventually as well, but I’ll probably be rationing them out over several years, as has become my habit with Short story collections. Oh, and this week’s Deal Me In coincidence? I discovered that the book blogosphere has a “Shirley Jackson Reading Week” currently in progress. How cool is that? One of the host blogs may be seen at http://www.stuckinabook.com/its-shirley-jackson-reading-week/

What have you read by Shirley Jackson and what did you think of it? In addition to her story, “Paranoia,” I’ve blogged about her creepy story “The Summer People” as well.


  1. July 20, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve read quite a few of Jackson’s novels and stories. I’d agree that maybe in an effort to be completist, Just an Ordinary Day has a few duds. I’ve been chipping away at it occasionally for a while. Maybe I’ll include a suit’s worth next year. There’s another new collection of essays and stories coming out next month called Let Me Tell You, but I think I’ll wait .


  2. Dale said,

    July 20, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I’ve still only read “The Lottery” and that was my senior year in high school. Ever since reading Stephen King’s 11-22-63, I’ve wanted to read “The Summer People”. Wait, maybe 11-22-63 mentioned Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder” and another King novel/story mentions “The Summer People”. I don’t remember. Great post, Jay!


    • Jay said,

      July 20, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      That (The King reference) sounds familiar to me too but I cant place it either. 🙂


  3. Jason M. said,

    July 21, 2015 at 11:15 am

    I read “Charles” in junior high school (a great short-short with a kicker ending) and “The Lottery” in high school, but that’s been it. This story reminds me vaguely of the “Twilight Zone” episode about the department store mannequins… with a little bit of “The Swimmer” thrown in. I hadn’t heard of it before today, but now I’m curious to read it! I think everyone here has met many Mrs. Melvilles in their day …


    • Jay said,

      July 22, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Jason,

      I seem to remember the woman in the TZ episode with the mannequins was at least a sympathetic character. Definitely not so with Mrs. M! & I wondered if there was anything to her being assigned the name of a famous American novelist too. Did Jackson not like him so conjured up a “wife” of Xantippe-sque proportions for him?

      I don’t think there is necessarily a supernatural element to this story either, though it could be interpreted as such in a couple places. I don’t think it was SJ’s intent that we think that, though.

      The Swimmer is one of my favorite short stories.



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