It’s June 27th. Read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
No seriously–go read it. The New Yorker, in which the story was originally published in 1948, has the story up online. You can read it right here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/06/26/the-lottery.
Come back when you’re done.
It’s amazing, right? I mean, when we say a story is “haunting,” or that it “stays with you,” we are talking about the feeling you get from almost every single Shirley Jackson story–and most definitely from “The Lottery.” You just keep turning it over in your mind after you read it.
“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.”
That’s how “The Lottery” begins.
Not with “It was a dark and stormy night.” But instead, with a light, airy tone that carries the infinite possibilities of an early summer morning.
My favorite aspect of Shirley’s Jackson’s writing was her unparalleled skill in the slow build. They way she peeled back the layers of the seemingly mundane to make the reader so increasingly uncomfortable, they want to scream by the end of the story. It’s a powerful, visceral reaction, and it hits me every time I read a Shirley Jackson story, no matter how familiar with it I am.
The pace with which Jackson peels back those layers of mundanity is always so measured. She gives you flickers of what’s to come (“the pile of stones in the corner”), and the reveal is cumulative. I love a good O. Henry twist as much as anyone, but the build of a Shirley Jackson story is just perfection.
I think my favorite of Jackson’s stories is “The Daemon Lover,” but honestly, they are all amazing. And “The Lottery” may be one of the most perfect short stories ever written, by a master of the craft.
Thank goodness it’s fiction though, right? I mean, imagine if, in 2020, we lived in a society that was willing to causally sacrifice the lives of human beings for the “greater good.” Where the preventable suffering and death of others became so mundane, it was just accepted it as “the cost of a healthy economy.”
Where a deadly virus was just a pile of stones in the corner, and every day a new lottery was held.