I had not read any of Shirley Jackson’s work since American Literature class in my sophomore year of high school. I loved the class, the students, the teacher. He was hard but fair and introduced us to America’s poets and playwrights and novelists. I never quite forgave him, however, for Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery”.
I finished most of my homework where homework was always done at our house – at the kitchen table. The October night was cold; a good evening for curling up with a good read before bed.. The assigned short story wasn’t long with enough dialogue that I felt comfortable waiting to read it last. I knew I would need to take notes and remember who the main characters were. Our teacher often gave “pop” quizzes that left no stone unturned.
I snuggled in and started the story, which moved along pleasantly enough about ritual on a warm summer day in a contemporary New England village. Have you read “The Lottery”? You can read it here. I won’t tell you ending in case you are interested, but, I will tell you that I could never forget how it stunned me – and kept me awake long into the night. It stayed with me all these decades.
After all these years, I thought it time to give Ms Jackson another try, so I checked out “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” on audio along with “Winter Garden” to keep me company on my recent trip up to Minnesota. The last week of October, I finally put the CD’s of Jackson’s book into my car player. I finally forgave my American Lit teacher for “The Lottery” as this odd tale told by Merricat Blackwood with her suspicious ways played out along with Uncle Julian’s recollection of the arsenic murders of family members and niece Constance’s trial and acquittal. There is, then, Merricat, a pet name for Mary Katherine, and the things she buries or nails on trees with flights of fantasy and references to poisonous mushrooms – and the endless taunting of the townspeople. It was an engaging book with an underlying evil heard as I drove past old Victorian houses in town, approaching All Hallow’s Eve.
Pulling into our long drive after returning the audio to the library, I stopped at our mailbox where the usual bills, political fliers, holiday catalogues and such tumbled out. There, among the mail, was a large white envelope from the UK. Inside was the Persephone Biannually. Their characteristic bookmark popped out, a few other things, with the catalogue announcing that their 100th book is “The Persephone Book of Short Stories”.
I set the catalogue down in a safe spot while I started our supper and did those sorts of things one does come late afternoon. I made myself a cup of tea and settled into the rich pages of the Biannually. Therein, on page 22 of the 28 page treasure, in bright red letters, was ABOUT ‘THE LOTTERY’ . “The Lottery” is one of the thirty short stories that were chosen for “The Persephone Book of Short Stories”. ABOUT ‘THE LOTTERY‘ is “Shirley Jackson’s “account of the reactions” to the first printing of her story in June of 1948 in The New Yorker magazine. From her own mother to a colleague on the magazine, the reaction was harsh, especially so by the postmaster of the small Vermont town where she lived, who refused to speak to Ms Jackson!
Funny, isn’t it, how these things pop into our lives, as if waiting for the right month, the right week, just the right moment to appear?