The Lottery And Other Stories was the only collection of Shirley Jackson’s stories to be published during her lifetime. The titular story, The Lottery, made a big splash, but most folks skipped past the rest. Jackson only started to garner real respect for her literary chops long after her death.
If all you know about Jackson is The Lottery, or her creepy novella We Have Always Lived In The Castle, the other 24 stories in this collection will come as a bit of a surprise. As per the blurb: “The creeping unease of lives squandered and the unspoken terrors of the everyday, suburban life are captured with brilliant clarity and sly humour in these tales by a master of the short story form.”
Yes, most of the stories in The Lottery And Other Stories are just weird, maybe a little unsettling, more so than spooky or scary. Some of them resolve neatly, others are just slice-of-life style and leave the ending open. They’re much quieter than I was expecting, and on occasion a little… well, blah.
I think I see what Jackson was getting at, though. Most of the stories, in some form, are about the subjugation of women and the suburban nightmares into which they were forced throughout the first half of the 20th century. The men are usually cold, withholding, or totally absent; the women are disillusioned, “difficult”, and dreamy. She also interrogates class, and race (most notably in Flower Garden), in ways that were probably quite confronting at the time, but pale a little in the light of contemporary progressive politics.
If you’re going to be scared by anything in The Lottery And Other Stories, it’s probably Jackson’s knack for revealing our own hypocrisies, our own capacity for evil and our overriding self-interest. Less “boo!” and more “boo hoo, humanity is awful”.
I found The Renegade particularly horrible – a story about a woman wondering what to do with her dog who has (allegedly) killed some of the neighbours’ chickens. Nothing actually happens to the dog on the page, but none of the options are good. Seven Types Of Ambiguity is also a particularly cruel story for book lovers, about a wealthy man who is interested in simply amassing a collection of “good” books and buys a beautiful and much-desired volume out from under the nose of a true book-worm.
Not all of The Lottery And Other Stories is miserable, though. The Tooth was a fun read – surreal, almost hallucinogenic. And the title story, The Lottery, is obviously a banger. It’s the last story in the collection, so it really ends on a bang. Apparently, it generated volumes of hate mail after it was initially published in The New Yorker, which seems adorably quaint nowadays – but it was the Cat Person of its day.
Ultimately, I’d say don’t pick up The Lottery And Other Stories if you’re looking for anything spooky or creepy. You might’ve been traumatised by The Lottery in high school, but it’s not really ‘typical’ of Jackson’s oeuvre and the ‘horrors’ of this collection don’t really hold up today. These stories are thinkers, ones that you’ll want to peruse and meditate on for a while – not ones that are going to keep you up at night, listening for ghosts and ghouls.
My favourite Amazon reviews of The Lottery And Other Stories:
- “Well-written rubbish. Makes you feel bad, sad, and hopeless.” – Nancy444
- “Absolute crap. The most terrifying stories ever? You MUST be kidding. You lot need to get out more.” – Cornelius Brick
- “It is okay and fun to read because it is set in a time prior to cell phones and computer technology and when everyone smoked cigarettes (my parents generation).” – Judy M Bryan