The Lottery and Other Stories, Shirley Jackson, The Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 1991 edition
Today is the last day of Short Story Month 2011 (#ssm2011 on twitter) - many thanks to Matt Bell and so many other writers who've been tirelessly posting links to short stories and reviews all month long. It's been a wonderful opportunity to learn about writers familiar and new, and to look at short stories through the eyes of some very knowledgeable and insightful folks.
Probably one of the first literary short stories most high school students read is Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, that chilling tale of ritualized community violence. It always left an impression on me, as I'm sure it did for so many young readers, and I was curious to revisit it and to read some of her other work.
While The Lottery was perhaps even more terrifying than I remembered it, several other stories in the collection struck me as notable as well. Jackson skillfully turns the most ordinary of situations (most of them domestic- a new neighbor, a toothache, a shopping trip, a conversation with a housekeeper) into something absolutely dangerous. In The Renegade, a family's dog gets into the neighbor's chickens, the neighborhood is of a consensus about the dog's fate, and the mother is frighteningly alone in her compassion for her pet. In Pillar of Salt, a woman visiting New York City with her husband is increasingly at odds with her surroundings, and eventually becomes stuck on a corner, immobilized in panic, unable to cross the street.
Jackson also has a sharp eye for the nuances and failures of prejudice and the social conventions of her time. In Flower Garden, a Mrs. Winning strikes up a friendship with her new neighbor, Mrs. MacLane, until Mrs. MacLane hires an African-American gardener. The entire town turns against Mrs. MacLane, freezing her out, scorning her socially in clear but unspoken ways. When Mrs. MacLane turns to Mrs. Winning to try to understand what has gone wrong, Mrs. Winning is offended to be confronted, and proceeds to blame Mrs. MacLane herself:
This is dreadful, Mrs. Winning thought, this is childish, this is complaining. People treat you as you treat them, she thought; she wanted desperately to go over and take Mrs. MacLane's hand and ask her to come back and be on the side of the nice people again; but she only sat straighter in the chair and said "I'm sure you must be mistaken. I've never heard anyone speak of it."Almost every one of the stories was provocative and disturbing in its own way, and thought they were well worth reading; recommended most of all to readers who are curious about her "other" work and getting a sense of her writing as a whole.
Note: due to a printing error, my library copy of the book was missing the end of The Daemon Lover and, I believe, one other story.