Book Review: ‘The Lottery and Other Stories’ by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other StoriesThe Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shirley Jackson holds up a mirror to American society, and that mirror was taken from a funhouse: the America we see is a twisted world where people are casually displaced from their homes, seemingly normal interactions come with layers and layers of subtext, and…’The Lottery.’
‘The Lottery’ is probably the least subtle of her short stories, although the build is consistent compared with the other ones: a sense that something is wrong, which then culminates a lot more visibly in this case than in the story where, for instance, the slob and the neat-freak end up swapping apartments through a process that the latter fails to react to. That’s all: fails to react. Many of her protagonists, if that’s even the appropriate term, are nothing more than bit players in their own stories. I could make a clever connection here to ekphrasis in art, but to be honest that’s a lot more fun in a livelier setting. (Read: comment if you want in.)

Jackson’s endings tend to be subdued, although there’s always this sense that she’s saying something powerful about the American lifestyle of her era. And all of these stories do incorporate the American life gone wrong somehow, in one instance even involving someone just going back to what she has always done instead of accepting something new—but the sense is that she is doing the wrong thing. It’s up to the reader to draw his own conclusions about the text and, by extension, what society asks us to do and what we do for society.

Her style is very utilitarian, modulated by the strangeness of the plots. ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle,’ one of my favorite books ever, exemplifies the plainness of her style juxtaposed with the creepiness of the story itself. A lot of her descriptions could pass for innocuous, until they can’t.

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