Book Review

The Lottery and Other Stories

The Lottery and Other StoriesThe Lottery and Other Stories
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: Penguin Classics
First Published: 1949
Genres: Horror
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library


One of the most terrifying stories of the twentieth century, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. “Power and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. Today it is considered a classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for its combination of subtle suspense and pitch-perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.

The Lottery and Other Stories, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson’s lifetime, unites “The Lottery” with twenty-four equally unusual short stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range — from the hilarious to the horrible, the unsettling to the ominous — and her power as a storyteller.

My Thoughts

If there is one story that Shirley Jackson is most famous for it is The Lottery, which has been heavily studied, picked apart, and caused so much notoriety that it has completely overshadowed Jackson’s other short stories. It’s a shame really because the collected works in this book are simply brilliant, there wasn’t a single story that I disliked.

As the reader engaging in these stories, you’re not presented with visceral depictions of horror or terrifying monsters beyond human comprehension. Instead, readers are given a window into a kind of horror grounded in reality. The reader is instilled with the same sense of discomfort, distrust, and paranoia that the characters in the stories feel. Whether it’s the fear of being laughed at, the pervasiveness of social prejudices, the corruption of home and family, or even the temptation to fall in line with the mob whether it is out of tradition or self-preservation.

“Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.”

Shirley Jackson understands something essential about horror. It isn’t always about the things that go bump in the night, but the everyday evils carried out by regular people. Societal pressure struggles for power, oppression, isolation, the loss of identity, and madness plague the people in Jackson’s stories. What makes Jackson’s stories scary is that many of these stories can feel very real.

Before this book I had only read The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House and I have loved both. This collection has cemented my admiration of Shirley Jackson and I honestly regret not reading her books sooner. Her work is definitely something to be experienced, even for folks that don’t really like horror.

About Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was an influential American author. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.

She is best known for her dystopian short story, “The Lottery” (1948), which suggests there is a deeply unsettling underside to bucolic, smalltown America. In her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that “no New Yorker story had ever received.” Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, “bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse.”

Jackson’s husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work that “she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years.” Hyman insisted the darker aspects of Jackson’s works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of “personal, even neurotic, fantasies”, but that Jackson intended, as “a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb”, to mirror humanity’s Cold War-era fears. Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman’s statement that she “was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned The Lottery’, and she felt that they at least understood the story”.

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