Shirley Jackson has been called one of the best short story authors, but when she first released her story, “The Lottery,” many people did not appreciate the story and she was ridiculed. Luckily we still have the chance to read these stories and be better off for it. I will admit these short stories go against the grain in both the story content and delivery.
On the delivery, I was always taught that good fiction has a beginning and and end with tension building to a release. Jackson doesn’t follow that line and that the end of the stories don’t release any tension, instead they leave the reader/listener with even more questions and a big void wondering what happened? Whether wanting to know what happened to the character or the events, you are just left on edge with no promise of easing that tension. When writing reviews I don’t like to talk about the end of the story because I want to leave that up to the reader. I still won’t break that policy with myself, but I will tell you that really the ending of each of these stories will only leave you wanting to know more and even to the point of frustration. Yes, I was frustrated at the end of some of the stories, but after I got over that tension and frustration I realizid I had just been taken on a journey and while the ending is somewhat pessimistic it was definitely an escape, which is all I ask from good literature.
The stories included in this audiobook are:
In a small village of about 300 residents, the locals are in a strange and nervous mood on 27 June. Children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, that in the local tradition has been practiced to ensure a good harvest. In the first round of the lottery, the head of each family draws a small slip of paper; One man gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. In the next round, each Hutchinson family member draws a slip, andhis wife gets the marked slip. In keeping with tradition, which has been abandoned in at least some other neighboring communities, she must meet the fate of the lottery.
A woman comes from New York City and purchases a cottage in a small town. When the New York woman asks a young African-American boy to help with her garden the town begins to shun the newcomer.
“Come Dance with Me in Ireland”
Three women are visiting and watching baby at home and indulging in gossip, when the doorbell rings. An elderly man, who looks extremely poor if not homeless, attempts to sell one of the women old shoelaces. Suddenly he nearly faints, and the women all try to help the man. The feed him and help him out and see him on his way, all the while criticizing him. This may not seem to intriguing as a summary but the story has more including the response the man has at the end, pretty interesting.
“Men with Their Big Shoes”
Mrs. Anderson, who works in Mrs. Hart’s home, engineers a conversation where she leads Mrs. Hart to believe that the neighborhood is gossiping about her relationship with her husband, and that to protect herself from further gossip she needs to let Mrs. Anderson live in her home.
“Trial by Combat”
An older woman is stealing things from Emily Johnson and is thus stealing her identity. When Emily realizes that they have parallel lives, she feels enough empathy for the thief that she does not react with any antagonism. I found this to be a very intriguing story especially in the twist at the end.
“Pillar of Salt”
A woman trying to cope with the change of visiting New York City after living her life in rural America. At first the sights and sounds are exhilarating but soon become overwhelming after witnessing a house on fire, a human leg washing up onshore and the death-defying feat of crossing the street in the middle of the day.
“Like Mother Used to Make”
A man is very meticulous with his apartment from the type and color of drapes to the look of the silverware, but his girlfriend seems to be, well in short, a slob. His passiveness is his downfall after he invites her over for dinner and she seems to have invited someone else.
A woman goes to the doctor to inquire about her husband’s possible insanity. The doctor’s response is so confusing that she becomes hysterical and might be the crazy one herself, though she thinks she might be the only sane person around. This one was definitely fun to hear.