There is more to Shirley Jackson than “The Lottery.”
You’ve read “The Lottery.” If you haven’t, you’ve heard about it. Small village. A drawing of names. Stones. It’s one of those stories that, when they made me read it in school, I was glad they’d made me read it. But I didn’t seek out any more of Jackson’s work, because, well, I was in school and I had other things to do.
Years later I discovered The Haunting of Hill House. Jackson’s opening paragraph is among my favorite novel openings of all time. I love the rest of the book, too. And yet, I still didn’t look for more of the author’s work.
Recently, I saw the above cover and was intrigued. Then I saw the author and snatched it up. Like the works mentioned above, this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a story filled with ghosts, but not the kind that inhabit Hill House; these ghosts are made of bad deeds and bad memories.
The three surviving family members of a mysterious poisoning have locked themselves away in a rambling old mansion, and have carefully constructed a fantasy life to keep themselves safe. Constance cooks and cleans and looks after her younger sister Mary Catherine, or “Merricat,” who spends her days burying talismans around the grounds and wishing for a life on the moon. Uncle Julius, poisoned also but not dead, spends his days writing about the fateful dinner that killed his brother and sister-in-law, but can’t himself remember everything that happened. These three live in solitude until forgotten Uncle Charles shows up, shattering the facade they’ve worked so hard to maintain.
Simple, short and direct, this is a powerful book; one that caught me off guard more than once. Jackson’s prose is both spare and poetic; lean when it needs to be, but not afraid to meander a bit when the mood allows. I enjoyed the language just as much as the plot and revelations it contained.
Suffice to say I’ve learned my lesson – I’ll now be seeking out all the Shirley Jackson I can find. I recommend anyone else with a love of a good story do the same.