“Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?”
“Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.”
“Merricat, said Constance, would you like to go to sleep?”
“Down in the boneyard ten feet deep.”
What if this was a schoolyard rhyme you learned as a kid, whose origins lay in a mysterious house in your neighborhood where you’ve heard two strange sisters live, but who you’ve never seen? You’ve heard other things, too. That the sisters eat children, and if you think you’ve insulted them, to leave a gift on the doorstep in a basket. To your surprise, you’ll find that the next morning, the basket will be empty.
What actual events could have caused all this mystery? What if one of the sisters could tell you everything?
Mary Katherine, or Merricat, is our narrator. She is the younger of the two sisters. Her story begins after the mysterious poisoning of most of her family, and after her sister Constance’s trial. She tells us about the routines that occupy her days, how Constance fills the kitchen with wonderful smells, how her uncle Julian has good days and bad days, and how she and her cat Jonas scamper into the woods by her house, to bury treasure, or nail a trinket to a tree, or dream about living on the moon.
Merricat’s voice is immature and dreamy. She lives in a world all her own. She loves her routines, and fights against change. So when cousin Charles visits the small family, Merricat sets to work trying to get him to leave. From an outside perspective, Merricat’s actions are confusing, scattered, and nonsensical. Why would she put sticks and dirt in Charles’ bed? But from Merricat’s perspective it makes perfect sense. One might look at Merricat and wonder if she’s a burgeoning witch, with her superstitions and strange love for nature. But is there another reason why the village hates them so?
This is a short read, but a compelling one. And Shirley Jackson seems to have a cult following for her strange tales, which include her controversial The Lottery, published in 1948, as well as the Haunting of Hill House.
Obligatory movie notice: We Have Always Lived in the Castle will be released as a major motion picture this summer.
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