The Lottery – 5/5 Stars
This remains one of my favorite books ever, and is one of the very best story collections (published as a collection) that I’ve ever read to. These stories hang on to each other so well, and there’s a few stories with lightness and levity (like “Charles” obviously, but also “The Witch”) and the obvious and patently sinister ones like “The Lottery” as well as the ones where the sinister edge cuts through only at the margins almost illegibly so.
I first read this collection at the beach in college, and it’s kind of a perfect beach read (not for on the beach itself) but on those beach nights when everyone has gone to bed, and there’s no more tv to watch or anything to do online (and this was before wifi as well). So reading these stories one after another with tension building and releasing. Even when we finally get to “The Lottery” the obvious star of the collection, there’s almost a kind of wonderful catharsis about the whole thing. There’s no other story in the collection much like the “The Lottery” in the way of being almost fable-like, but also overt, and that’s also ok. This isn’t a collection of twist endings, although there are a few, but more so stories like “The Witch” is my favorite, because of the dark sarcastic little moment at the end, if not a twisty ironic moment.
I think of course what happened here, as happened with a lot of story collections, is that the fame of the title story outpaced the others, not in quality, but in notoriety, and while it’s highly inventive, the more subtle stories are more masterful.
The Witchcraft of Salem Village – 4/5 Stars
A very very good breakdown of the craziness of the Salem Witchcraft trials in the form of a short children’s informational book, also written at the same time as “The Crucible” but without the macho annoying John Proctor garbage mulling everything up. Shirley Jackson lived near Salem, and I have only been one time, but it’s a town that has leaned into its notoriety (and has good restaurants!).
The story here played out with no real drama and instead cold facts is actually more alarming because you don’t need the drama to sell the injustice and fear inhabiting these times. The other thing that Shirley Jackson is able to do (and this is not all the different from her fiction) is to show not only how irrational so many people’s collective actions were, but how immune to ration they were, and how dangerous they were when confronted with ration. So there’s lots of moments (aside from lawsuits) where being confronted with reality caused people to dig in even further. Another of my favorite elements of this little book is how clearly Shirley Jackson understands adolescent girls. This shows through not only in her characterization of Rebecca Nurse’s sober reckoning of what is happening, but also in Jackson’s description of the girls’ behavior. She knows wicked adolescent girls, and she revels in their behavior a little here and there. It’s a reminder that the adults failed the girls and other adults mightily.
Virgins – No Rating
I think this is a funny little novella that is a prequel in a way to Outlander. It’s not a prequel in that it sets us up for much in the main novel, but it gives us a little character motivation, some background, and some funny further discussions on the religious ideology at play in the novels. One of the final scenes of the first novel is a long discussion of faith and faithfulness based on Clare’s double marriage. This book has a similar conversation based on the idea of a teen boys’ concept of sex and sin. Basically…does it count as sin if he…well, sinned prematurely. It’s a pretty hilarious inversion of the conversation from novel one. Other the story is a nice bit of character development and history that I won’t recall a lot of later.