One of the most terrifying stories of the twentieth century, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. “Power and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. Today it is considered a classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for its combination of subtle suspense and pitch-perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.
The Lottery and Other Stories, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson’s lifetime, unites “The Lottery” with twenty-four equally unusual short stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range — from the hilarious to the horrible, the unsettling to the ominous — and her power as a storyteller.
If there is one story that Shirley Jackson is most famous for it is The Lottery, which has been heavily studied, picked apart, and caused so much notoriety that it has completely overshadowed Jackson’s other short stories. It’s a shame really, because the collected works in this book are simply brilliant, there wasn’t a single story that I disliked.
As the reader engaging in these stories, you’re not presented with visceral depictions of horror or terrifying monsters beyond human comprehension. Instead readers are given a window into a kind of horror grounded in reality. The reader is instilled with the same sense of discomfort, distrust, and paranoia that the characters in the stories feel. Whether it’s the fear of being laughed at, the pervasiveness of social prejudices even on children, the corruption of home and family, or even the temptation to fall in line with the mob whether it is out of tradition or self preservation.
Shirley Jackson understands something essential about horror. It isn’t always about the things that go bump in the night, but the every day evils carried out by regular people. Societal pressure, power struggles, oppression, isolation, the loss of identity and shortly after madness plague the people in Jackson’s stories. What makes Jackson’s stories scary is that many of these stories can feel very real.
Before this book I had only read The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House and I have loved both. This collection has cemented my admiration of Shirley Jackson and I honestly regret not reading her books sooner. Her work is definitely something to be experienced, even for folks that don’t really like horror.
Strengths: Well developed characters and plots, many of the stories are brilliantly connected
Weaknesses: Not scary per say in the context of the horror genre
Warnings: Violence, racism