Shirley Jackson is a legend. Just like every other teenager in high school English, and well before I ever had serious aspirations for writing, I’d read her short story, The Lottery. At the time I didn’t thing much of it. It was just another thing I had to read for class, and I made it a point to not enjoy anything I was required to read for school. But, now that I am older, and like to think that I am wiser, I’ve rediscovered Shirley Jackson and her writings.
A couple years ago I made it a point to read The Haunting of Hill House, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But this post isn’t about that book.
I also recently decided to give The Lottery another go recently, and I was completely blown away. That story is one of the most densely packed short stories I’d ever read. Every word has purposes. Not just one purpose, but many. She makes her words work overtime. But, again, this review isn’t about that story. So let’s move on.
And now we finally arrive topic of this book review.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
This was Ms. Jackson’s final novel before she passed away, and it is a doozy. It is unsettling and strange, and I loved every bit of it. Let’s talk a bit about why I think I liked it so much.
First off, the narrator. Her name is Merricat (short for Mary Katherine) Blackwood and she has issues. How many issues you ask. To that I say a whole damned subscription. In the first chapter we know that there is something not right about her and her family.
But there is so much more. The story is told from her perspective, and we want to feel for her and believe that her attempts at sympathetic magic will do something to help her and what remains of her family. To ward off the dangers of the outside world from her little walled off home she buries little treasures throughout the grounds. My favorite bit of sympathetic magic is when she tries to ward the house by writing and/or speaking secret words before destroying or consuming them. One word she writes on a dish before smashing it, another she speaks into a glass of water before drinking it down.
Next is Ms. Jackson’s slow feed of what really is going on with the Blackwood family. As the story moves along we are only given tidbits and tiny clues as to the true events that led the family into their current predicament. Each time I started to get a feel for what I thought had really happened, the story presented a new bits that made things even stranger than I had thought.
Finally, just like in the Lottery, every word and phrase has purpose. I feel like I could read this novel ad infinitum and still glean new experiences. I’m debating on reading it again very soon.
I’m not going to beat around the bush. You have to read this. If you like well crafted stories this is required reading. This is especially so for us writers. I will be looking at this story as an example of what fiction can do for a very long time.
Get a copy and read it, ASAP!