The Magic of Shirley Jackson

You’ve probably all read “The Lottery”—you know, the short story about the eerie small town whose custom is an annual lottery in which one unlucky person gets stoned to death by their neighbors? It’s creepy, right? That story, believe it or not, is by the incomparable Shirley Jackson. Sadly though, it’s really the only work of hers that is well-known, which I firmly believe is a travesty; it’s unacceptable.

It is my goal to tell everyone I meet about Shirley Jackson, the amazing woman who wrote prolifically throughout her lifetime. She wrote from the 1940s until her death in 1965. Jackson was married to a jerk of a man—Stanley Edgar Hyman—who was a teacher at Bennington College (and who cheated on his amazing wife more than once). Despite the social climate of Jackson’s time, she managed to write some truly literary works, which is remarkable even now when writing in the horror genre. Her most famous novel is The Haunting of Hill House, which is regarded as one of the best ghost stories ever written. What amazes me most about Jackson is her ability to take something like a ghost story and transform it into an intense, psychological, and downright terrifying tale. The worlds she creates are unlike any other (I find reading her work on a blustery fall day is pure heaven).

So, I’d read “The Lottery” a few times, and then I read The Haunting of Hill House, and I was entranced. I ran to my favorite bookstore and purchased another collection of stories and another novel. I still can’t decide what Jackson work I love most. . .

If you want to read an amazing novel told by perhaps one of the most unreliable narrators you’ll ever encounter, pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Merricat is singular, she is odd, she is hilarious, she is creepy. Her relationships with her family members are perplexing, and by the end of the book you’ll ask yourself, “What just happened?” (In the best way, of course).

If you want to read short stories (which I suggest you do; they’re perfect reading for busy semesters when all you have time for is a few pages here and there), go get any collection of Jackson’s stories. They’re terrifying, in a quiet way. You won’t find blood and gore like a twenty-first century blockbuster horror flick, and you won’t find over-the-top thrills either; what you will find is an almost unbearable suspense that quietly builds page after page and characters who make you uncomfortable and horribly interested. (I’d recommend you check out “Charles,” “The Daemon Lover,” and “Like Mother Used to Make”)

As a writer and a reader, I look to Shirley Jackson as a master of her craft. As a woman, I look to Shirley Jackson as a role model for enduring her controlling husband and oppressive society—not only enduring, but also managing to create worlds and characters and plots that are still read today. More people need to be aware of Shirley Jackson. She should be a part of our canon, our teachers should teach more of her stories (though I am thankful they teach one at all), and everyone should trust me—Shirley Jackson is magical.

By: Carrie Dudewicz

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