The books featured so far in this week’s posts may make you feel a bit uneasy, but it is a sort of comfortable scariness that they offer. Today’s title is quite the opposite. Shirley Jackson is a master of the macabre, and her short story “The Lottery” is still disturbing many years after I read it (probably in 8th or 9th grade). Just thinking about the story sends shivers up my spine and leaves me feeling slightly queasy.
What makes Jackson’s work disturbing, but also compelling, is her ability to move swiftly and easily from a pleasant scene of domestic or community bliss to outright horror. Her work explores the dark heart that Jackson seems to feel lies at the center of our most cherished institutions—family, community, love. These are frightening stories, especially as they usually are peopled by folks not too different from you and me. The horror of the tales is sometimes leavened by a dark strand of humor, but not too much. These are fascinatingly grim explorations of the human psyche.
While “The Lottery” is the story that I find most chilling in this collection, and the one that created a stir when it was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, there are other stories equally unsettling. “The Demon Lover,” “The Witch,” and “Trial by Combat” all will leave you wondering what is really going on in the lives of the characters.
These are not stories I go back to often, but sometimes, when you are in the mood to be discomfited, Shirley Jackson is just the writer to do it.
Check the WRL catalog for The Lottery and Other Stories