Off the Shelf
By Sarah Jane Abbott | Monday, May 26, 2014
When I bring up Shirley Jackson in conversation, people often don’t recognize her name and say they’ve never read her work. To this, I always respond: yes, you have. When they continue to insist they haven’t, I begin to summarize a story: there is an idyllic little town where every year, in order to bring about a prosperous harvest, the villagers choose a town member randomly through a lottery and collectively stone him or her to death. At this point, I usually see a spark of recognition in my companions’ eyes—“Oh, wait, that sounds familiar. I think I have read that . . .”Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is widely anthologized and taught in many high schools and universities. It seems that, while the author's name and the piece generally fade over time, the story's haunting scenario stays with people.
“The Lottery” isn’t Jackson’s only piece of work with this kind of disquieting permanence. I have read her short novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle several times; even when it has been years since I have revisited it and the names of the characters and exact plot details have faded, this story of two lonely young girls ousted from society, their crumbling manor, and their devastating secret remains.
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