1949’s The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of short pieces by Shirley Jackson. Aside from The Haunting of Hill House, there’s a giant Jackson-sized hole in my reading. When I saw how inexpensive The Lottery ebook was, I snapped it up. Time spent in various waiting rooms allowed me the leisure to actually read it.
There are twenty-five pieces in this book. I am not going to do my usual story by story approach; cue sighs of relief all round.
Any young people who have been subjected to unwanted attention from older men may want to glance at “The Intoxicated”’s conversation between a pessimistic seventeen year old and the man who has interrupted her studies.
“That would be good news,” he said lightly. “I used to hate Caesar.”
“I suppose when you were young everyone hated Caesar,” she said coolly.
On a similar note, if you are in love with the romance of publishing, I cannot recommend “Elizabeth” strongly enough.
“The Lottery” fits nicely into science fiction’s tradition of horrible, spiteful cultural traditions, which might be why it’s the one story in this collection that I had heard of (although somehow never read). For some reason, knowing a bit about it, I assumed that it had to be set after some great calamity. The story doesn’t really support this: the Lottery is just an odd little detail of American life, like Thanksgiving or Pope’s Day .
While some of the stories in this collection are genre or at least borderline genre, Jackson’s mundane material can be more horrifying than her speculative works. Readers can assure themselves that the idea of the lottery is absurd, that no community would actually do what those villagers do. The quiet, vicious, inexorable racism that drives “The Flower Garden”, on the other hand, would have been completely familiar to any reader in 1949, or 2017 for that matter.
Coming at this from the angle of almost complete ignorance, I was expecting perhaps some more weird horror, the sort where the atmosphere is oppressive, the occult is limited to the shadows and the mind, and the resolution is tragic. Not so. A lot of these stories are mundane, horror only in the sense daily life can be horrible, that any conversation can head in disquieting directions, any trust betrayed, any illusion shattered. It’s a very suitable book for the times we live in.
The Lottery and Other Stories is available here.
For technical reasons, this review is unedited. Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com