“The Lottery and Other Stories” by Shirley Jackson

Genre:  Short Story Collection The Lottery
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub. Date: June 26, 1948

Mini-Review – Spoilers

This short story collection was published in 1948 and appears to still have a following.  After reading the collection, I understand why. The author, Shirley Jackson,  writes brilliantly.  She has been described as one of the most famous short story writers in the history of American literature.  Her work is still being taught in schools today (that was news to me). The stories range from dark humor to bloodcurdling.  All are written with a surrealist tone. I didn’t like every short in the series. “Fair Garden” is about racism and dragged on a bit longer than needed.  However, I did enjoy most of them.  Here are my two favorites.

The title story, “The Lottery” has a diabolical theme.  Jackson, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up (other shorts in the collection will do the same). The tale centers on a fictional small town in America that has a highly unusual annual lottery. In their lottery, a member of the community is selected, by chance, to be murdered— Stoned to death. This is supposedly for the town’s continued well being. As the townspeople surround their victim, Mrs. Hutchinson, she screams, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” to her neighbors who begin the barbaric ritual.  The community members’ mob mentality is especially terrifying since the characters read as if they are hard working, ordinary farmers who enjoy square dancing and town picnics. The author explores the relationship between civilization and violence. Shades of the dystopian book, “Hunger Games” that won’t be published for another sixty years.

There is great dry wit in “My Life With R.H. Macy.” This short is written in the first person with an unidentified narrator, who describes her first day as an employee at Macy’s. She is immediately segregated into a nondescript group, then constantly shuffled and ordered around by faceless employees, all who go by the name of Miss Cooper.  The author nails conformity and lack of individuality that she sees in society.  I found myself laughing aloud when reading the woman’s employee number, locker number, time-clock number, cash-register number and drawer key number.  Of course, the protagonist is nameless, because she is faceless, nameless at her place of work.  The short ends with this: “I wrote Macy’s a long letter, and I signed it with all my numbers added together and divided by 11,7000 which is the number of employees in Macys. I wonder if they miss me.” Insightful yet remainig light.

You shouldn’t rush through this book.  For full impact, these stories are meant to be read and digested slowly.

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