Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Lottery and Other Stories - Shirley Jackson

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.

Happy reading!

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.


  1. I've never read anything by her except for The Lottery, which was amazing. After reading this post, I'm inspired to read the rest. I think she's an amazing writer!

    -Kate the Book Buff
    The Book Buff: Book Reviews for Regular People

  2. I hadn't either- it is so interesting to read a collection of stories and gain a better sense of the writer, I hope you enjoy them.

  3. Shirley Jackson writes the creepiest stories -- my wife and I are just fascinated by her.

  4. Yes! they are fascinatingly creepy. Have you read any of her longer work?

  5. I haven't, but my wife has read everything of hers, fiction and non-fiction. If she begs, I'll let her read me a story or two. We read a fabu out of print biography about her -- the name totally escapes me, maybe it was 'Ordinary Demons' or something? I'll check when I get home.

  6. Ooh, that sounds interesting! I was curious about Life Among the Savages as well. Thanks for the tip!

  7. I love Shirley Jackson but I haven't read most of these. I'll have to look for them.

  8. Hope you enjoy them, so interesting to read her other stories, would love to hear what you think.

  9. I remember reading The Lottery in college and how terrified I was. Then the movie came out and I was feeling anguish all over again. This is a great short story. I want to read the rest of the short stories now.

  10. Haven't seen the movie- I think that would indeed be very hard to watch! Would love to hear what you think of her other stories, found them very interesting.

  11. My favorite story here is "The Daemon Lover." Herein, Jackson offers one of the most poignant, touching looks at loneliness, desperation, and fragility I have ever read. In the story, we spend a day with the protagonist as she prepares for her wedding, having become engaged just the night before to a James Harris. It is a depressing yet beautiful story, and I actually rate it higher than "The Lottery." The character of James Harris actually flitters throughout several of these stories, a phantom of sorts haunting several of Jackson's more memorable female characters.


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