Mar 19, 2009

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories

I picked this up for the actual story "The Lottery," of course. Count this as another classic that I just never got under my belt in school. I knew the twist, of course, so I didn't feel any urgent need to run out and pick it up. But I saw a decent copy of the collection for just a couple bucks, used (and let me just say again, thank god for used paperbacks), so I grabbed it.

What a revelation! "The Lottery" is the last story in the collection, and I took my sweet time getting there. I kept this in the car as my lunchtime/between times book, and I wallowed in it every chance I got. No one told me that Jackson wrote so damn well! Little slices of people's lives, most of them passing slowly over some common misery or guilty failure, examining it clearly and with beautiful skill. "The Daemon Lover", with the slow crawl of the day when a wedding never happens (obvious to the reader, torture for the protagonist), especially exemplifies this.

You know, the story "Flower Garden" is sort of the real life companion to "The Lottery" itself. In both, neighborhood prejudices and mean little traditions have crippling consequences for everyone involved. Jackson was saying an awful lot of smart shit about race relations (and doing it in the 1940s! - there are people today who think they're putting out intelligent comments on race relations who use a lot more space to say a lot less than this story or "After You, My Dear Alphonse").

As for the story itself, "The Lottery" still slides under your skin even if you know where the sting comes in. Know what's even scarier, though? This is what Jackson later said about the massive amounts of hate mail she received when the story was first published:

The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.

final thoughts: This could just be a personal blind spot, but I think that too much is made of one story, detracting from the skill and, yes, possibly genius shown in her other work.


Levi Stahl said...

"The Lottery" has for some reason never worked for me, but I do love the other stories I know by Jackson, "The Daemon Lover" in particular.

If you've not read her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you have a treat in store. It's strange, creepy, smart, and unforgettable.

downtown guy said...

I think this was the first Shirley Jackson I've read, and I'm really looking forward to more. She does creepy just the way I like it.

B.E. Earl said...

Well, I'm glad you discovered her. And I wish I had the excitement of reading "The Haunting of Hill House" for the first time all over again!

That book is brilliant and you will be able to tell how brilliant it is from the very first page.

Happy reading!

downtown guy said...

I tell you, this dystopian quest has been the best thing I've done for my reading habits since grade school. I've "discovered" more authors in the past year than I did in the ten before that.

Anonymous said...

"The Lottery" is brilliant. In the intro to my edition, I like how the author points out how people were upset with the story when it was first published. Everyone was so happy during those post-war years, I guess they didn't appreciate Jackson's raining on the parade.

JRSM said...

Just another vote for 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle': Levi's right--it's brilliant stuff.

Doc said...

Good to hear this. I bought a collection of her work recently but haven't started it. Now I will bump it up the list some.