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[515] The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

” The she realized that at the wash-basin she was in the way of the women in a hurry so she dried her face quickly. It was when she stopped a little aside to let someone else get to the basin and stood up and glanced into the mirror that she realized with a slight stinging shock that she had no idea which face was hers. ” —The Tooth

The most terrifying The Lottery, which tells the story of a farmer village ritual lottery truning into a murder, is one for which Shirley Jackson is famed. It is on this account, along with the bone-chilling Haunting of Hill House that I pick up and peruse this collection of stories. But these stories are far from horror, not even riddled with paranormal suggestion. A couploe of them might be spooky, like the mysterious girl who serves a drunken man a cup of tea in The Intoxicated and the absent groom who would never come answer the door in The Daemon Lover.

Every window she saw on her way uptown seemed to be broken; perhaps every street corner was peppered with small change. The people were moving faster than ever before . . . the people seemed hurled on in a frantic action that made every hour forty-five minutes long, everyday nine hours, every year fourteen days. —Pillar of Salt

The horror portrayed in The Lottery and Other Stories is not one of hair-splitting nature, but of a more subtle helplessness. Ordinary lives dislodged from the normal routine, either edging closer to aberration or going off on an escapade. Pillar of Salt captures the slow nervous breakdown of a woman who visits New York City with her husband for two weeks. The hustle-and-bustle closes in on her, makes her feels claustrophobic, and finally plunges her into paranoia and dementia. In The Tooth, a young woman comes to New York City to see the dentist for her troubled molar. Her codeiene-numbered consciousness takes over her and becomes her reality.

Then we put this real sharp spiky collar around her neck. And then we take her where there are chickens, and we show her the chickens, and we turn her loose. And make her chase the chickens. And then, when she gets right up close to the chickens, we puuuuuuull on the rope—and—the spikes cut her head off. —The Renegade

Despite a few forgettable ones, the stories in this collection, unusual, unique, and morbid, demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range, from the hilarious to the truly horrible. There’re the mean spirit and blood thirstiness of children, as in The Witch and The Renegade, for they are not sensible of death. There’s the humor about the namelessness of a Macy’s employee who is no more than just a number. There’s the helplessness of a young woman who cannot bring herself to confront a widowed kleptomaniac. There’s the heavy subject of racism as the town turns its back on a woman who hires a black man to tend her garden. Not much horror as I have expected, but this collection of stories, populated by oddballs and ordinary people, is worth a read.

402 pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

5 Responses

  1. I read her for the first time this year and I know I want to keep going. This collection sounds great!

  2. See I expected more horror, like the gothic kind. I do have this book (bought it with Marie and Dawn in Boston!) with this grand plan of reading it this Halloween season, but I won’t get to it this year. Maybe I should just read the famous one, The Lottery.

  3. I loved The Lottery from the first time I read it in high school, but it took me until earlier this year to read this collection. I lovet he way Shirley Jackson is able to take the ordinary and turn it into something that is skewed and off putting, leaving a reader with this sense of dread that something is wrong, but being hard to put a finger on the reason.

  4. I do love Shirley Jackson, although of course I like her best when she’s doing horror. I’ve loved three out of the four novels of hers I’ve read, the last one being the least horror-y.

  5. […] [515] The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson […]

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