Monday, May 16, 2022

21. The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover by Shirley Jackson

I found this at the great traveling vintage sale that has started to come to Montreal.  They have very few books, more cloths, furniture and other antiques but this was a nice little find. It's a 1949 paperback original of her collection of short stories and was quite a good seller at the time.  The cover and subtitle is misleading, as if they were trying to sell it to sci-fi and horror fans rather than a more literary set.  The stories themselves are pretty literary, though definitely as unsettling and thought-provoking as those genres.

An aside, reading this book did just give me a clear notion of the definition of "genre".  This is my own way of understanding it (and may well be utterly not original and probably thought over with much more depth by much smarter and more patient people).  Basically, in genre fiction, the primary objective is to tell a story.  Ideas and concepts are delivered with the story, but tend to not be the main focus.  Literary fiction can be story-driven but generally it is the ideas and concepts that are the main objective.  Obviously there is a spectrum and lots of exceptions but broadly speaking this is why I personally prefer genre fiction.

The above notion crystallized in me while reading these short stories because many of them have only the most minimal story structure.  At first, I was mildly annoyed, because despite my objective tone above, I am really not down with the New Yorker/liberal arts university creative writing course mode of trying to impart a feeling or some shit.  However, Jackson is such a skilled writer and the stories so tight and short (and effective) that I got over my irritation.  Many of the stories deal with the anxiety of women in this time period in the northeast, usually with an absent or oblivious husband and a contrast between the city and the country.  There are a couple of stories here that really capture the fear that New Yorkers have of the country and close proximity to the rural working class.  This has been going on for a long time!

My favourite story is The Dummy about two catty women who see a ventriloquist show and react to the dummy.  Really, nothing much happens, almost the small incident one might see going out in NYC that would be a funny anecdote, but it made me laugh and she captures the women's dialogue so well.

I'm glad I read this (and later read up on Jackson's life) because I had only read The Haunting of Hill House, which is good but doesn't give you a good sense of where she is coming from.  I will have a better appreciation of her work now.

No comments: