The Lottery and Other Stories proves that Shirley Jackson was a master storyteller. Everyone knows this, so I’m not saying anything new. I’m behind on reading Jackson’s work, having only read We Have Always Lived in a Castle previously. But I figured October was a good month for some horror.
However, this collection isn’t horror in the sense of otherworldly creatures. Instead, it centers on the fact that people aren’t often who they say they are. These stories have main characters who are out of place and unfamiliar with their surroundings, with The Lottery being an exception to that rule. All in all, everything—situations, characters, story arcs—are all just slightly askew and unsettling.
As famous and famously disturbing as The Lottery is, I was just as uncomfortable reading The Tooth. Maybe it’s because I’ve had similar dental work recently. Either way, the main character in that story hit awfully close to home. Charles made me laugh at the things kids say, although it’s about midway on the disturbing scale.
I like how Jackson connects these stories by repeating a few characters with very little explanation. But after reading the progression of stories once, I want to read them again to follow the thread between stories more carefully.
Jackson layers oddity upon oddity in tight stories with taut writing and complex characters. Set either in the anonymity of a big city like New York or the small-town kind of overbearing feeling of “everyone knows everything about everybody,” each situation made my skin crawl in its own way. But none are traditionally scary horror. Still, sometimes the horror is people themselves.
I recommend The Lottery and Other Stories if you need a fictional reminder about the dark side of everyday people. For more in this vein, pair it with The Woman in Black by Susan Hill or something by Stephen King or Joe Hill.