Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: The Lottery And Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

The Lottery And Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

“The Lottery,” one of the most terrifying stories written in this century, created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker. “Powerful and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. This collection, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson's lifetime, unites “The Lottery” with twenty-four equally unusual stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson's remarkable range—from the hilarious to the truly horrible—and power as a storyteller.

Review: “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories of all time. I first studied it in college and loved the slow buildup of tension and the unexpected ending. As soon as I finished “The Lottery,” I vowed to read all of Shirley Jackson’s work. Unfortunately, I’m a slacker. I graduated from college years ago, and I’m just now getting around to doing what I said I would.

“Unusual” is a good way to describe Shirley Jackson’s short stories. Most of the 24 tales in this collection feature ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Mothers lose their identities at the orthodontist; townspeople ponder the fate of a chicken-killing dog; and old men tell children about the murders they committed. There isn’t much violence on the page, but it lurks in the background of every sentence. Many of the characters seem mentally ill. There’s a sense that the careful masks people wear in public could slip, and something could go horribly wrong at any moment.

“Upstairs Margaret said abruptly, 'I suppose it starts to happen first in the suburbs,' and when Brad said, 'What starts to happen?' she said hysterically, 'People starting to come apart.” – The Lottery and Other Stories

Most of the stories are about the small unkindnesses that happen every day. That’s what makes the characters so relatable. Shirley Jackson must have been a very observant person. She perfectly captures the moments where people are carelessly and unknowingly mean to each other. These stories are subtle, yet impressive. They chronicle the everyday horrors that we all have to face. In Jackson’s world, the “monsters” are racism, greed, superiority, suppression, lies, and alienation.

Here are my favorite stories:

In “Charles,” a kindergartner entertains his parents with tales of “Charles,” a misbehaving classmate. The boy’s nosy mother becomes desperate to meet Charles’s parents. This story is predictable, but I liked waiting to see if the characters would figure out what was going on.

A family gets new neighbors in “Of Course.” At first, the mother is excited for her kids to have new playmates, but the new neighbors are so stuck-up and opinionated that the relationship goes downhill fast. This story is relatable. We’ve all had the misfortune of meeting people who think they’re better than us. Also, I laughed at the last line.

I think a lot of bookworms can relate to “Seven Types of Ambiguity.” Two men want the same antique book. One wants it because it looks pretty; the other wants to read it. Who will get the book? This story made me sad. And angry. 

Finally, “The Lottery” is a classic American short story. It’s had a massive impact on modern horror and dystopian fiction. It’s about a town that holds a lottery every year, but it’s not the type of lottery that you want to win. That’s all I’ll say about it. Go read it, if you haven’t already.

Like I said earlier, the stories in this collection are subtle. They’re not the type of thing you can read in a hurry. You’ll need some time to mentally process them after they’re over. For me, a few of the stories are too subtle. (Or possibly too dated? This collection was first published in 1949. Social conventions have changed since then.) I think I missed the point of a few stories. They just dragged. Nothing happened. I wanted them to be over so I could move on to the next one. Luckily, there are 24 stories in this book, so there’s something for everyone.

I didn’t like every story in this collection, but I liked them enough that I’m eager to read Jackson’s novels. But, since I’m a world-class slacker, it’ll probably take me a while. Check back in seven years to see how I feel about The Haunting of Hill House . . .


  1. I've read The Lottery. Definitely memorable.

    1. The Lottery is one of the more memorable things I read in college. Most of the stuff I read was so boring that I mentally blocked it out to save my own sanity.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I've read The Lottery and Charles, but I don't think I've read any of her other work. I would have guessed Charles was by O. Henry though!

  3. I haven't read this author before but these stories sound fabulous. I am going to check my library for this one.