Saturday, August 30, 2008

"We Have Always Lived in the Castle" Shirley Jackson

Why I read it: It was on the list in my notebook of things to read, and then Gwenda Bond referred to it and "The Lottery", so I requested the book from the library.

I might have mentioned I was on vacation last week. I read three books. This was the first.

Tastes like chicken: Weirdly, Doris Lessing's "The Fifth Child".

What I liked: I liked a lot. The foreward by Jonathan Lethem mentioned "The Lottery" as being something every North American kid read in school, and I didn't remember it by the title, so I pulled out my Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from University, and sure enough, "The Lottery" was there. So I read it, and yes, I had read it before. I remembered being angry at the ending the first time I read it, and I was angry this time too. I don't think I read it in University, because there was no underlining in pencil or red ink like there was on some of the other stories.

Anyway, I thought the way we viewed "We have always lived in the castle" through Merricat's eyes was wonderful. Jackson really got inside Merricat's view of the world, and skewed everything towards Merricat's really disturbed interpretations of people's actions, her magical realism (none of which seemed to work). She was very childish, very sheltered, and not in a good way.

I kept wondering if the townspeople being asses was all in her own mind, and then what they did immediately after the fire was a bit of a surprises because it was so primal, so wild, so animalistic. And then the switch they went through at the end, that was beautiful.

What I hated: There was a section of the book maybe about half-way through (I don't know about other editions; mine was 146 pages long, so this would have been between perhaps pages 70 and 90) that I found really stressful. This would have been about when Cousin Charles arrived. I had to skip forward and make sure the story wasn't going to continue with Cousin Charles messing up Merricat's tidy little world before I could go on. Other people might not have that problem.

But after that I was very satisfied with the ending. It was totally worth the stress of the middle bit.

What I can steal: Oh I don't know, maybe Jackson's confidence in writing stories that make people uncomfortable. I may spend way too much time trying to avoid offending people. Also, I liked the length. Why go on for 700 pages, if you can tell such a good story in just a few?

1 comment:

Your EG Tour Guide said...

I plan to visit a used bookstore this afternoon. I'm going to look for Shirley Jackson.