Have you ever read any stories or novels by Shirley Jackson? If you know her writing, it’s most likely to be that you read her short story “The Lottery” in a class. It a classic creepy story hidden in a pretty normal circumstances.

“The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”

If you haven’t read the story,  you should – so  I won’t add a spoiler, but it’s not what you’d expect.

That story was originally published in The New Yorker in 1948 and it still has power. Readers were shocked, wrote angry letters, canceled their subscriptions.

But she has other stories and books that readers should try.  Her novel The Haunting of Hill House
is a good haunted house book. What I like about her is that she often takes ordinary people in realistic settings and tells a tale of horror and the occult.

In Hill House, there are four characters – an occult scholar, his assistant, a sad young woman with some poltergeist experience and the future heir of Hill House. It turns out that the house has plans to make one of them its own.

I used to offer Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle as outside reading when I taught middle school. I don’t who had the book approved and bought a box of copies before I arrived at the school, but I was easily able to seduce students into reading the novel by implying that we shouldn’t be reading it for school.

In this novel, the strange but not haunted castle is Blackwood House. The girl who narrates, Merricat, tells a tale that is described on book jackets as macabre and sinister and humorous.

Merricat is a character that I found middle school girls really liked. She has created an odd world with her own rules.

My students assumed that her use of magic and the buried talismanic objects and ones she attached to trees and her rituals and the talk of poisoned relatives was the truth. Ah, the unreliable narrator.

I think middle schoolers are ripe for a strange family in the strange house that is viewed with distrust and some hostility by neighbors and other villagers.  The neighbors don’t actually see anything paranormal going on – just a weird family. The reader starts to wonder what is the truth.

Then Merricat’s little world is invaded by cousin Charles, who seems to want to grab hold of the Blackwood “fortune.” He undoes her spells and digs up her treasures and she gets desperate.

My young teenaged students seemed to really connect with being seen as strange or being the outsider. Maybe they didn’t cope or fight like Merricat, but they know her fight. So, the novel’s conclusion seem tragic.

Shirley is a strange writer. I mean that in a good way. But Shirley Jackson also wrote some light, humorous tales about family life. She wrote Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. She was a mom with four children and not some dark, disturbed woman. She wrote at night after her mothering work was done.

Maybe it was the night that took her off into that other directions. Maybe it was escape from those daytime “demons” she was raising.  Maybe she had a rough time in 8th grade.

A One Volume Collection of Jackson Novels and Stories