A few months ago, I had decided to read some T.E.D. Klein, and I was trying to figure out where to start. I read on his wikipedia page that his story The Events at Poroth Farm “is notable for the insidious way in which the narrator’s responses to the works he is reading (including those of Charles Robert Maturin, Ann Radcliffe, “Monk” Lewis, Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Aleister Crowley, and Shirley Jackson) are conflated with his impressions of the supernatural threat.” With the exception of Shirley Jackson, I had read and reviewed bits and pieces by all of these authors for this site. I used to teach high school English, so I had come across a few of Jackson’s short stories before, but I had never read any of her novels. I had heard that these novels were pretty great, so I decided to give Shirley a go.
The Lottery: The Adventures of James Harris
Farrar, Straus and Company – 1949
But I started with The Lottery: The Adventures of James Harris (or The Lottery and Other Stories as it was later retitled). Many of these stories are short little glimpses into the lives of surprisingly normal characters, racist neighbours and jealous office workers, people it’s very easy to picture. This collection had very little supernatural horror in it, and it is very different to the stuff I usually post about, but I found it interesting and entertaining. It ends with the title story, The Lottery. This is probably the most horrifying tale in the collection, but it’s also one of the most famous short stories ever written. If you haven’t read it, go read it. I have a pdf of comprehension questions I can send you when you’re done.
The Haunting of Hill House
Viking – 1958
I knew that this book had a reputation as one of the greatest horror novels ever before I read it. I was not disappointed. This was great. It’s far longer than the stories I had read by Jackson previously, but the prose and plot are just as tight. The tightness isn’t stifling though. This is masterfully written stuff, but it’s still a page turner. There was one part that creeped me out really good. No spoilers, don’t worry. (You know that bit where she thinks she’s doing one thing but she’s actually doing something else? Yeah, that bit! SPOOKY!) Holy shit, this book was good. Prioritize it on your reading list.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Viking – 1962
I waited 2 weeks after finshing Hill House to start on We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This one isn’t a horror novel in the same way as Hill House, but I reckon it’s probably the darker of these two books. It’s about a pair of sisters who live in a big house in a town where everyone hates them. This one was great too.
In general, Jackson’s narration is superb. She manages to transfer the thoughts from her characters’ heads onto the page without losing the nuances of their thought processes. The characters in her stories will say quirky little things that you will have found yourself thinking a million times but have probably never said out loud. This is partly what makes Merrikat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle such a fascinating character. The relatability of her thought process makes it really easy to forgive her malevolent sociopathy.
Shirley Jackson was an excellent writer, one of the best. I’ve read some awful crap recently, and I really enjoyed reading some top notch horror. Jackson’s novels have somewhat rejuvenated my interest in the genre. Also, now I won’t feel like a philistine when I start reading that story by T.E.D. Klein