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 Intoxicated, The Daemon Lover, Like Mother Used to Make, Trial by Combat, The Villager, My Life With R. H. Macy, The Witch, The Renegade, After You, My Dear Alphonse, Charles, Afternoon in Linen, Flower Garden, Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors, Colloquy, Elizabeth, A Fine Old Firm, The Dummy, Seven Types of Ambiguity, Come Dance with Me in Ireland, Of Course, Pillar of Salt, Men with Their Big Shoes, The Tooth, Got a Letter from Jimmy, and The Lottery.
Interested in The Lottery and Other Stories? It can be purchased here.