Introductory thoughts 10/10/19 (Jump to Table Contents)
I am reading this for Totathon 2019 as a “book” that I read and then watch the adaption of. AKA the Scary Movie challenge. I originally planned to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also by Shirley Jackson. Then I got ahead in my schedule. I decided to allow myself to deviate from the plan (oh no!) and read Jackson’s first autobiography, Life Among Savages. It made me want more Jackson. It was so well written and charming, but it also felt like a commentary on society intentionally or not. That left me wanting more. Of course, the Lottery is a commentary on society, and I wanted more of that.
I’m also not that excited by We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the book or the movie. I also have the impression that it isn’t that scary. I am trying to remember why I had that idea because as I research it, everyone calls it creepy. In any case, I went with this collection instead.
This is composed of 26 stories (see table of contents). That is a lot of stories. At roughly ~300 pages, this isn’t very long nor are many of these stories. It makes it easier to read. Unfortunately, trying to blog about it is hard. The formatting to discuss each story takes time. Then the content begins to blend together if I don’t stop in between every story. Of course, I am not going to do that; this isn’t high school. I will rate each story, and discuss those that stick out.
I love this collection. Sure, they don’t all do as well as others, but this is probably the most consistent collection of stories I have read all year. This is a collection of deliciously disturbing and unsettling stories based almost entirely in mundane human circumstances. At this point, I have read most the stories (some twice), but I have few left to read. Signature among them is the Lottery for which this book gets its name. I am glad it is last. I expect it to work fantastically as a closure to this collection. It fits perfectly in this collection, and I could see plenty of readers making the mistake of stopping with it were it first (probably even with it last).
I am amazed at Jackson’s talent. Fresh off of Life Among Savages, I am finally beginning to understand why she was such a significant writer of her time. Even the less impacting stories are satisfying to read.
This collection is easily one of my favorites of the year. I think a lot of these stories say a lot about Jackson’s take on society. Some of them are a little hit and miss, but many of them are very short. On average, this story gets 3.74/5 stars. I don’t think that score gives this collection justice, especially since so many of them are a lot longer than others. That’s why I decided to calculate the rating based on how long each story is. Essentially, each story is multiplied by the percent of the whole the story is. It brings the score up to 4.05/5 stars. I still feel like the story’s overall impact on me deserves more. I’ll give it an even 4.25/5 stars.
PS: I’ve got a physical copy in the mail. I’ll post an Instagram picture when it arrives!
Table of Contents
- The Intoxicated (Part I) ★★★★☆
- The Daemon Lover ★★★★★
- Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★★
- Trial by Combat ★★★☆☆ (2.5)
- The Villager ★★☆☆☆
- My Life with R. H. Macy ★★★☆☆
- The Witch (Part II) ★★★☆☆ (3.5)
- The Renegade ★★★★★
- After You, My Dear Alphonse ★★★☆☆ (3.25)
- Charles ★★★★☆ (3.5)
- Afternoon in Linen ★★★★☆ (4.25)
- Flower Garden ★★★★☆ (4.25)
- Dorothy and My Grandmother And the Sailors ★★★☆☆ (3.25)
- Colloquy (Part III) ★★★★☆ (4.25)
- Elizabeth ★★★★★
- A Fine Old Firm ★★★☆☆ (2.5)
- The Dummy ★★★★☆ (3.75)
- Seven Type of Ambiguity ★★★★☆ (4.25)
- Come Dance with Me in Ireland ★★★☆☆ (3.25)
- Of Course (Part IV) ★★★★☆
- Pillar of Salt ★★★☆☆ (3.5)
- Men with Their Big Shoes ★★★☆☆
- The Tooth ★★★☆☆
- Got a Letter from Jimmy ★★★☆☆ (3.5)
- The Lottery ★★★★★
- Epilogue (Part V)
1. The Intoxicated ★★★★☆
I listened to this story twice. Not out love per say but because I forgot what it was about. It is a good story; I just read a lot at once. I would actually say my opinion of it went down the second time around. Its a story about a drunk man talking to a 17 year old girl about her essay on how the world will end. Originally, it felt like a commentary on men who think they know better than women. That is definitely there, but it also feels like a commentary on today’s (yesterday’s ?) youth and their exaggeration of things. The sad thing is this could be written today about climate change and the still ever present sexism in society. 4/5 stars. (table of contents)
2. The Daemon Lover ★★★★★
This was one of the longer stories, but I read it twice because I loved it. This is a story about a young woman who is preparing to get married. Today is her wedding day, and naturally, she is nervous and wants everything to go smoothly. That’s when she becomes unable to locate her husband to be. What follows, is a sad desperate attempt to find him and convince herself what she fears isn’t the case. This story was fantastic. It was human and so terrifyingly real. Jackson takes us on a journey that we can guess the end of, but it’s the path she takes to get us there that is so enthralling. I never savored the woman’s pain. I just appreciate the ability to experience such a real yet unsettling occurrence of a human being losing them-self in madness because reality is too much to take. 5/5 stars (table of contents)
3. Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★★
This is another story I read twice because I loved it. It’s about an OCD man who is obsessed with cleanliness. We meet him as he prepares for dinner with a woman who lives in his building. To his surprise, she seems to have invited a man she works with. She begins to take credit for his nice apartment, his fine cooking, and everything that he did, probably in part for her, to impress this other man. What does this man do in response? He rolls over and takes it in the most infuriating yet repeatable way possible. I’d like to think I am not as bad as him, but I understand the instinct at times to be agreeable, especially when it involves someone you want to like you. Even if it means losing your own self respect. 5/5 stars (table of contents)
8. The Renegade ★★★★★
This was another favorite story of mine. It’s a story about a dog who supposedly kills a bunch of chickens. There is no proof, at least not at first. All we have is an angry call from a neighbor complaining to the dog owner. Denial turns to apologies and attempts to repay the damages. Unfortunately, neighbor isn’t interested in payment. They want the dog put down.
The story of the dog quickly makes it way through town, and before long every person is playing sad and sympathetic. Although beneath the surface, there is air of sick satisfaction that people seem to be having with this idea of this dog being put down. The story make great use of the mob mentality of small town and how people like to relish in the pain of others. As if, the pain of others reflects somehow on the quality of their own life. It is disgusting, and I am here for it! 5/5 stars. (table of contents)
10. Charles ★★★★☆ (3.5)
This story was in Jackson’s Life Among Savages. It’s about a boy named Charles in Jackson’s son’s class who keeps getting into trouble. He’s “fresh” with the teacher; other times he does and says obscene things that too much to even say out loud. That is, until the end of the story when we learn the stories her son has been telling aren’t exactly true. I think it works better in this collection because there is less context, so the implications of the ending are broader. Is it all fabricated? Was Charles her son all alone? Or was it something more sinister and supernatural.
If you haven’t read the story, hopefully this is making senses because I am trying not to overtly spoil the story. Overall, the story reflects the imagination of children and how sometimes even an innocent mind can go to pretty dark places. I enjoyed it. 3.5/5 stars. (table of contents)
14. Colloquy ★★★★☆
This is one of the weirder stories. It’s about a woman who, for lack of a better word, is hysterical. She is going mad over the slightest of phrases. Things like “stock markets” or “inflation” are driving her insane with fear. It all felt too extreme to be real. I got the impression that the woman in the story was a caricature of what society expects women to be. It is as if they aren’t capable of discussing politics or dealing with worldly issues. Because it is so weird, I wonder if I’m reading into it, but I enjoyed it even if I’m wrong. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)
16. Elizabeth ★★★★★
This is definitely one of my top stories of the collection. Which, I am glad because it’s also the longest. This is a story about a women who works in publishing with a man who doesn’t respect her nor does anyone else. Whats more, the man is incompetent and incapable of handling problems. I found myself quickly siding with the woman, Elizabeth. That eventually changed as she becomes as much a part of the problem of women being mistreated and dismissed. I don’t know if Jackson intended this character to be unlikable; her treatment of this young pretty assistant who was hired for her looks comes with a tinge of satisfaction. Although, that sharp stinging attitude is misplaced. It isn’t the assistants fault that Liz’s business partner is a imbecile. Sure, I want Elizabeth to get the respect she deserves, but that doesn’t give her the right to continue this cycle of abuse. There are so many levels to this story, and I love it. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)
18. Seven Types of Ambiguity ★★★★☆ (4.25)
This is a story about a young boy who is an avid reader who helps an older man find several great books. The older man has lived a busy life that hasn’t allowed him the time to read. Now he is older; he can afford and has more time. The boy on the other hand, comes to this store to read what he can’t afford. I really liked this story because the man feels fake. Its as if he wants people to have this perception of him as a well read man. He has no real interest, nor is likely to read any of these large book hauls. He fails to appreciate the young boys passion and love for books.
In particular, there is one book the boy comes back to read over and over. After the boy has gone out of his way to help the man to become a better reader and find books he is likely to like, the man goes on to purchase the very book the boy has been reading during each of his visits to the book store. The reason I enjoyed this story so much is because I find the man very realistic. He is infuriating, and he represents whats wrong with so much of society. People are so self absorbed in perception that they don’t appreciate true passion. The man fails to realize the love the boy has for reading because if he did, he wouldn’t mindlessly purchase the book the boy has been avidly reading. I hate him, but I love the story. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)
21. Of Course ★★★★☆
Of course! That is obligatory remark to any sort of obvious statement or situation. Even when you don’t recognize something as such, perhaps you will resort to it so people won’t think you daft or unusual. That’s the case of main character here. She is moving or has a new neighbor (I forget), and she goes to introduce herself. She tries to be friendly; she invites her son to go to the movies with her child. But of course, this family doesn’t go to movies. They don’t watch TV. They don’t read newspapers. What an absurd concept! But of course!
She tries so hard to be welcoming and friendly, but in doing so our main character just goes along with every pompous and absurd thing her new neighbor spits out. It is insanity. At some point, you just have to accept these people are assholes, but that is not an option. Social niceties must be obeyed in this weird yet entirely real scenario. Real life and the expectations society puts on us is truly unnerving. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)
26. The Lottery ★★★★★
I’m not sure if this really deserves 5 stars. It isn’t my favorite, but it is a classic. I think part of it was the lack of a surprise made it have a slightly less jarring impact. It’s still interesting reading it knowing where it’s going because appreciate the subtle details you would likely overlook the first go around. That is, knowing the premise because I didn’t remember any hard details. It starts out very calm and slowly reveals the dark and twisted nature of the story. It’s unnerving and insane, but it’s presented as normal because it’s tradition. What I think many people may fail to see here though is that there are plenty of absurd traditions or beliefs that people abide by that could easily be seen as absurd to an outsider (e.g. think religious services or rituals). I love that I reread this the same summer-fall season as the release of Ari Aster’s new film Midsommar that shares a lot with this story in my opinion.
I definitely want to read this story again, and I’ll be watching the short film adaption of it for the Trick-or-Treatathon. It’s dated, but it’s short and I remember enjoying it (I think) in high school. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)