Sunday, November 26, 2006

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson

Most everyone has read "The Lottery," Jackson's most famous work in which an unthinking mob follows an old tradition. She continues exploring mob mentality in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, what Jonathan Lethem calls "her masterpiece."

We Have Always Lived in the Castle has much the same feel as "The Lottery": a small-town setting that has all the appearance of total normalcy, except tinged with an ever-increasing sense of doom. However, where "The Lottery" is limited to its bizarre plot, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is driven more by its bizarre characters.

Merricat (Mary Katherine Blackwood) lives with her older sister, Constance, and their eccentric Uncle Julian. They are shunned by the rest of the community, for theirs is a home of a murderess, albeit an acquitted one. Six years before, Constance was accused of poisoning their family, leaving their family mostly dead and Uncle Julian, the only survivor, an invalid. Constance, although proven innocent by a court of law, has not been acquitted by the members of their community. As a result, Constance is a recluse, never leaving the large property that contains their home. Mary Katherine is the only one to leave the safety of her home, entering the town twice a week to buy groceries and other necessities. During these visits, she is mocked and ridiculed, taunted, and repelled.

So the small family of survivors lives alone in their house, until a cousin comes to visit. Needless to say, his visit upsets the pattern of days that they have established in the wake of the murders. What happens as a result is, needless to say, disturbing, but it's classic Jackson.

I am not sure, however, that I could agree with Lethem that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson's masterpiece. Certain elements were quite predictable, and I would have liked more explanation in terms of character motivation. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles, and I found myself tearing through the book in one sitting, anxious to reach the end.

In a nutshell: A great, fast read that explores the bizarre world of some crazy people.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4.5 out of 6 stars

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