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.


When dividing loyalties, consider your options…

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

So here we are, at the final story in my Sherlock Holmes collection: The Priory School. I’ve read it before, so bits and pieces came back to me as I read. I was mostly excited to be finishing the book so that I could move on to the next, truth be told! But, as to the matter of this story… it has a fairly good lesson on where loyalties should lie, when dealing with family and scandal and so on. The Duke of Holdernesse has a complicated situation, that is only revealed at the end of the tale. He has an illegitimate son (he had apparently tried to enter a legitimate marriage with his mother, but the woman would have none of it and died) whom he kept as a secretary. A marriage and ensuing legitimate heir however upset the matter greatly. The elder son isn’t on his best behavior, and ultimately the wife leaves for France, and the younger son goes to Dr. Huxtable’s priory school nearby.

The case is, when it comes right down to it, the kidnapping of the younger son by the elder, with an accidental murder in-between. Holmes goes about in his usual methods, scouring the region for clues and keeping Watson mostly in the dark until the ultimate reveal. For once, he gets a hefty sum for his involvement (and his silence). The one thing he does do is make certain the Duke understands just how foolish he’s been to keep James, the elder son, under the same roof as his hated little brother, with his behavior being as it is. The Duke assures him that James will be going to Australia to find himself, and that he’s already in the process of tidying up his relationship with his wife since it was ultimately just James that was the problem, and Holmes is satisfied.

My only real question is, why end on this note? I do not know the rhyme or reason behind the stories included in this collection, honestly. I cast a fresh eye upon the introduction to the book, and it mostly says that, of the 56 stories about Holmes’ adventures, they chose those which stood out (which is funny to me, because this is precisely what Watson is supposedly doing at the introduction to each tale). Finally, for now, my reviews of Sherlock Holmes are at an end, until I pick up with my complete collection on the Kindle or another collection with new selections. For those interested, the pretty hard cover edition with a slip case that my friend Jesus purchased for me can be found here.

Interested in The Priory School? It can be purchased here.