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The Library of America’s new anthology of Shirley Jackson’s work includes a chronology of the writer’s life, the story collection The Lottery, two novels, several uncollected or unpublished stories, and a “Biography of a Story.” Surprisingly, Joyce Carol Oates’ role as editor did not include writing an introduction or preface to the volume.

One important note from the chronology illustrates Jackson’s literary disposition well. As a young girl, she believed she was clairvoyant and had glimpses of other worlds. In her work, such an outlook is omnipresent and necessary for the meaning of most of the stories.
Jackson regularly uses a horrifying defamiliarization in her fiction. Instead of rendering the world strange, she writes ordinary events into terrifying ones. Without explicitly employing the supernatural, through sharp and slightly incongruous details she reveals how frightening the quotidian world can be.

The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris—which includes the famous title story and nearly fifty other pieces—uses recurring characters, similarly passive and observant narrators, and frightening detail to illuminate reality as if through the imagination of a child stricken by fear, with monsters lurking inside every shadow. Of course, that fearful reality is often our own neighborhood and those monsters are often ourselves.

An example is the story “Daemon Lover,” in which nothing strictly supernatural happens despite the title, except the eerie details of a woman’s preparations on her wedding day and her destructive obsession with the apartment across the city.

Jackson’s talent for revealing everyday nightmares is also well suited for depicting the discreet code of suburban American racists in a story like “Flower Garden.”

Her “Biography of a Story,” also included in this collection, tells about writing “The Lottery” and details responses the author received to the story. Many responses resemble the attitude of the small town public in the novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also included in this collection. What becomes obvious to the reader is how publishing “The Lottery” led readers to ignore Jackson’s other work. Her response was perhaps to be expected. When asked if she would write more “revelatory” work, such as she had in “The Lottery,” the writer remarked, “I’m out of the lottery business for good.”


Review: Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories ( May 2010 )

Winter 2010-11 Cover
Poetry & Fiction

Guest-edited by:
Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes