Searching for a (wo)man, stones in hand…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

Following up after reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I decided to track down a book that would include Shirley Jackson’s infamous short story The Lottery, which led me to The Lottery and Other Stories. Much to my surprise, the book didn’t open with The Lottery, but instead would finish with it. It was my fault for assuming, but still! Genuinely surprised, there. Anyway, in my own little opinion, while the stories are all fairly satisfying, the start of the book caught my interest the most. It occasionally waned, but overall, it held fast.

Unlike the series of reviews I did for Sherlock Holmes, many of these stories are quite brief and hard to flesh out a decent post about, so I decided to compile one for the collection overall.

My absolute favorite in this collection was The Daemon Lover, the second story in the collection. It’s a curious piece in the art of escalation. We’re introduced to a bride-to-be on her wedding day as she prepares to meet with her groom for the big day. Time steadily plods on, and her observations hasten, steadily becoming more concerned, more frantic, more harried. She crosses town in search of him, following faint rumors of his description, until finally arriving at a door that no one answers. And no one ever does. We’re left to draw our own conclusions at this point, but it’s safe to say she’s been had. But why? The beauty of the ugliness of humanity in that moment is great, honestly.

Much of this book is about that ugliness in varying forms. The realness Jackson paints with her stories, written decades earlier, is something else. These people exist in a time of habits and motions long before my own generation, but they’re familiar all the same. Ironically, I’d always been told that The Lottery fit this description aptly, but I found it to be on the mild side compared to a few others in this collection.

Flower Garden is another noteworthy tale, depicting a new family in town with high hopes, welcomed warmly by all until they arrange for some help around the house by a local black man and allow her son to play with his. It shows a few things in particular, but most importantly shows how swiftly the toxin from racism spreads and its affects on even the most resistant of dreamers. In the end, the woman sees her garden failing and wonders if she should just return to where she came from. Her hopes and dreams are killed by the ugliness of the others, and in the last moments, those hateful people blame her for “making it about” the black family, something that they themselves did.

I will admit, a few of the stories may have lost me with shifting perspectives. A common thread was a person shifting from the position of host to position of guest while remaining in the original domicile, and I couldn’t tell if I was reading into the situation that they were never truly the host to begin with or not. I enjoyed these situations either way, but it did cause a brief pain on my brow!

The Lottery–the big one, so to speak. I have heard mention of this story in all sorts of situations. When people bring up The Hunger Games and what its influences are, it comes up. When people bring up required reading in schools, in comes up (I was always in special programs for English courses and somehow managed to miss practically ALL required readings). Hell, even watching an episode of Squidbillies, a disturbing, poorly-drawn cartoon on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, it comes up (in that instance, they even quoted a line from it to “prove” a point in the plot). I’m certain, if we go that route, that the cartoon Archer must have at the least mentioned Shirley Jackson, if not this story, simply ‘cos they make SO many classic literature and movie references throughout the series that I’m often left with my head spinning. But what about the actual story? Well, for starters, it really is a short story. I expected it to be a short novel, similar to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but it’s only a few pages long. The material isn’t jarring (though this may be from years of knowing a summary of the plot). The human behavior is predictable, if regrettable. Mrs. Hutchinson is pulled from the village lottery to be stoned, all the while saying, “It isn’t right! It isn’t fair!” It isn’t, but that is just the way things have always been and people aren’t keen to change.

As far as Jackson’s stories go, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is still a personal favorite that I’m likely to revisit. This collection is a good romp, but I seem to favor the longer stories, leading me to believe I simply don’t have the mind to appreciate shorter form stories. It may even be that a few of those confusing brow-pains were from the shorter ones! We’ll see in the future books I tackle if this holds true, eh?

This particular edition includes the following short stories by Shirley Jackson:
The IntoxicatedThe Daemon LoverLike Mother Used to MakeTrial by CombatThe VillagerMy Life With R. H. MacyThe WitchThe RenegadeAfter You, My Dear AlphonseCharlesAfternoon in LinenFlower GardenDorothy and My Grandmother and the SailorsColloquyElizabethA Fine Old FirmThe DummySeven Types of AmbiguityCome Dance with Me in IrelandOf CoursePillar of SaltMen with Their Big ShoesThe ToothGot a Letter from Jimmy, and The Lottery.

Interested in The Lottery and Other Stories? It can be purchased here.


The Moon is a wondrous place, please ignore the ash!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So one of the prime benefits of GoodReads (that I regularly miss out on ‘cos I mostly ignore the Internet), is that you can see what others are reading, reviewing, and enjoying. While updating my feed for re-reading The Waters of Nyra, I stumbled across the author, my friend Kelly, having listed a novel with a peculiar, eye-catching blurb: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. She recommended I read it, and so I put it in my reading list, right up after finishing Nyra. What followed was a very interesting experience.

Castle is a first-person tale, told from the perspective of Merricat (Mary Katherine), as she lives with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian, six years after the murder of the rest of the Blackwood family. There was arsenic in the sugar, and Constance was acquitted of the crime, and they now live in a very particular existence with self-imposed rules and isolation. It is exceedingly familiar to me, this existence. I myself live in this manner, with my own set of rules, charms, magic, and more. It is the only way to defeat the outside world’s power over me. Throughout the first half of the story, the outside world prickles at her bubble, in a familiar, time-worn fashion. It is frustrating, but it is how the world is. I felt a sense of comradery with Merricat in these times, in her efforts to run her errands in the village. But then he came.

Charles Blackwood is a disagreeable character. Perhaps not to Constance, at first, who seemed intrigued by his presence, but he is a darkness and an obstacle in the rules and charms and magic. He comes into the house as a guest, and acts as though he owns the place, demanding his rules are the rules that govern the house suddenly. That everything Merricat does to protect her and Constance and Uncle Julian in their way of life is wrong. He begins to shift Constance’s thoughts, and this sends a chill through Merricat. In myself, it made me nauseated and sick for the remainder of the night as I tossed and turned in bed. I know what it is like to have someone attempt to override my rules and charms and magic. It is not something I want to go through again, but I was willingly reliving the feeling through the novel, for now, because it’s such a good novel and I wanted to see Charles burn.

Well, it was not Charles that burned, but the house. In the chaos that ensues, the Blackwood women escape the villagers to the woods for a night before regathering themselves. Merricat now has to make new rules, charms, and magic, but this is fine. This is her beloved Moon, where everything is great, and she has finally taken Constance with her. The novel ends with a series of family friends attempting to reestablish contact with the women, and the villagers leaving offerings at their doorstep.

Once the initial nausea left me and I slept on the horrible irritation that was Charles Blackwood, I felt better. The sickness of the outside world wasn’t gone, but they were soon on the Moon, and that was good, that was preferable. Gone were the threats of separation and change. The change had happened, but there were still rules and charms and magic, and this was good, this was preferable. This was the Moon.

Interested in We Have Always Lived in the Castle? It can be purchased here.


New Year dawning??

Yo! So after that spam of reviews, let me say, Happy New Year! I’m way more active over on Patreon lately, news-wise. It’s a bit easier to post there and people are invested in me being as transparent as I can be about what I’m up to. However, my website is good for more concrete posts and updates, so I enjoy it for that aspect. It’s not so easy to catalogue things over there however, so I like to post those sorts of things here especially. For now, neither are made entirely redundant.

So, it’s officially been the first week of the new year, and what have I been up to, you fail to wonder? Well, I fell ill right at Christmas, so I’ve mostly been sleeping and in bed and just generally being an invalid. And reading! I’ve been trying to force myself into a new (okay, a renewed) era of reading. I have an idea of what I want to read this year, minimum-wise. I’d like to read the other six Harry Potter novels, reread Kelly’s two Nyra novels, read at least one of my friend Tom’s Ember tales like I meant to do last year, and possibly get through a Durarara!! novel or two. It’s a big catalogue for someone who rarely does any reading, but I have my hopes. For now, I start with The Waters of Nyra Vol. I. The newest editions of both volumes are bloody GORGEOUS and I’m so jealous. It makes me very very much want to renew my search into artists to do my own covers for other works in the future. Hers have a vintage feel, invoking in me memories of old, bent-up, yellowing books in musty bookshelves of my childhood, and that is excellent. I’m opting to read the physical copies this go round, because it’s going to be rarer and rarer I get to read physical volumes of anything, you know?

Now, borrowing this list from Patreon, here is the most up-to-date inventory of my works as of the first; it’s only outdated for 2121: The End of Syfe, which I already got back to work on a bit at a time.

[“Jinn Trilogy”]
Between the Lines: 1,512 words (Sci-fi)
(Delving into Jinn’s background via a friend who knew him “in the before times”, features advanced technology and a lack of positive social interactions. The main character is outfitted with an experimental AI named Junpei.)
Efficiency: 7,664 words (Sci-fi)
(A man wakes up to find himself bound and under a rusted scalpel of someone who insists they should be recognized. On the run from he doesn’t know what, he is told someone named Jinn just might be able to help him. Whether he likes it or not, of course.)
Viral Genetics: 3,357 words (Sci-fi)
(Jinn employs a veritable army of working Joes, but Erik has a name, and a specialty–and a goal.)

[“Outwards” Stories]
Behind the Moon: 9,730 words (Fantasy)
(Ed slips through a shadow in the middle of the night and tumbles painfully into another world.)
Beneath the Wind: 28,578 words (Fantasy, Romance)
(Venswick is in danger; Ed’s presence has drawn dark eyes upon its luscious land.)

[The Redford Verses’ Stories]
2121: The End of Syfe: 57,449 words (Fantasy, Sci-fi)
(The ex-patients of Redford are struggling under the burden of righting the worlds they know before the end of 2121. The worlds are all under siege, and not everyone is coming out on top.)
Love Burns: 120 words (Fantasy)
(Zackary Ezrael Tyke thinks about his closest relationships.)
The Truth About Judais: 185 words (Fantasy)
(Lilania is a lively spirit, always open to new experiences. When she befriends a visiting rogue named Ezrael, a very important bond forms.)

[“The World Tree” Stories]
Spanners: 31,509 words (Fantasy)
(Penny and Shaun are tasked with studying the Spire, and when they can’t help but activate it, it naturally breaks. Or kills them. These are the most logical possibilities, unlike Shaun’s simple suggestions that they’ve found themselves in the past or Asgard or both.)
The World Tree Detective Agency: 1,246 words (Fantasy)
(Loki is being punished for something they didn’t do, as usual, but this time the gods have decreed that Sigyn be captured until Loki show some results. Enter The World Tree Detective Agency, Loki’s pet project.)

A Cat & His Box: 25,319 words (Sci-fi, Humor)
(Fel is officially a runaway–alongside their three friends and Dingy, a Spacelot, which happens to be some sort of two-tailed space-faring feline with a witty AI named Noire in the mysterious Box, a special ship with a special trait, which, if you couldn’t guess, is that it was stolen.)
The Community: 5,712 words (Sci-fi)
(Zan and Wicket are from different Sectors–different worlds, really–but Zan doesn’t see what the big deal is about sharing his space with her. The Community has its regulations, however, and the consequences are not so kind.)
Dark Blood: 10,625 words (Thriller, Horror)
(Cindy is shy and new to the island, and the council just doesn’t seem to care for her very much. The resident goof seems not to mind her though, and so they try a thing called friendship. And then she’s attacked.)
Dreamscape: 7,165 words (Drama, Romance)
(John is desperately trying to smuggle Elise out of the country, before she can be hacked open and exploited by the government he worked for. John is now unemployed.)
Duality: 2,613 words (undisclosed)
(I cannot talk about this project under penalty of death or disappointment, I’m not entirely sure which.)
Just Business: 6,483 words (Romance)
(Alice is recruited by a secretive organization to do work. Nothing terribly specific, and her coworkers are not the most forthcoming.)
Purity: 152 words (Fantasy)
(J is under arrest when the world suddenly decides to dissolve all around him.)
The Silver Coin: 836 words (Romance)
(The caravan is on the move, and Ariana can hardly fend for herself. That’s where Dimitri comes in, with his infamous silver coin, and their migration for survival twists into a knot.)
What Lies Beyond: 4,678 words (…)
(A series of questionable events that I have lived through.)
Winter Red: 53,662 words (Thriller)
(Melinda escaped the noise of the world, only to find herself in the hands of a serial killer. But when he doesn’t murder her immediately, and slowly teaches her the tools of the trade, is it trauma or fate that guides her own hand?)
(Untitled Drabble): 682 words (Supernatural, Romance)
(Clein and Thom have a symbiotic relationship. Clein gets to fulfill his social needs outside of having a pack, and Thom can possess him on the regular. It has its benefits.)
(Untitled Sherlock Holmes): 631 words (Mystery, Thriller)
(Watson has seen Holmes through many a case, but he isn’t sure he is willing to stand by his friend any longer.)