Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Are you up for 214 pages of weirdness?

No, not my post, but an old (1962) novel, "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," by Shirley Jackson.

Do you remember Shirley Jackson? She wrote "The Lottery," and back when I was in high school, this was pretty much required reading. I've often thought of The Lottery over the years, and Shirley Jackson's portrayal of brutality in the name of compliance.

In my Classics ReRead Book Club at the Grand Forks Public Library, we recently read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, another book by Shirley Jackson; I'm suspecting this will be another book that filters into my thought at odd moments in the future, reflecting life around me.




You wouldn't think that this plot reflects any life as we typically know it. This book follows the very strange Merricat, an 18 year old woman who lives in seclusion with her sister, Constance, and Uncle Julian in a house on the edge of town. The Blackwells are outcasts; Constance was accused of but found innocent of poisoning the rest of her family, several years earlier, with arsenic, traced to the sugar bowl. Constance likes to cook. . .

The Blackwells are outcasts not just because of the family murder; they are also outcasts because they were rich. And in their seclusion their very odd, idiosyncratic and bizarre points of view become more. . . . unique. . . the more they separate themselves from the rest of the world.

I don't think this would be such a compelling book if it was just about their strangeness; what makes it most compelling is the reaction of the community to the Blackwells. Although some reach out, another response of raw hostility occurs during the midst of trying to save the Blackwell house during a fire. I read that Shirley Jackson herself in her own life felt very rejected by her community, and I think her books take those all too universal instances of people feeling like outsiders and writing about them, symbolically and metaphorically, in the extreme. And she is particular fond of examining that edge between societal compliance and differentness. Shirley Jackson never got even; she wrote! Just think what she might have written in this day and age in response to TSA checkpoints in airports!

I enjoyed this book immensely, but I will caution that others in my book club did not; they thought Merricat was too weird, but that's why I liked her!

What's even weirder is life in Grand Forks. How do we survive -36 to -45 windchills? I don't know; . . . cuddle duds help. Last night, my weather bug registered -36, but rumor has it we're settling into a bone-crunching -45 tonight.




Which way is outta here?

9 comments:

HLIP said...

I like weird - I'm off to add it to my list!

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

I remember reading The Lottery in 7th or 8th grade (early 80s!). In fact, for some reason I was just mentioning that book not so very long ago.

That is WAY WAY WAY too cold!!!!!!!

Maria said...

Hmm . . . I don't know what to think about this book. It seems like a lot of work just to try to get along with the character . . .

Then again, if it helps distract from the -36° weather. Jeez, that's cold!

Nicki said...

I am looking for something to ready - maybe this because sometimes I like 'weird'. I was originally getting concerned where you might be going with some of the details of the book - poisoning family members.... After reports of sub-zero degrees I was concerned you might be contemplating going all Kathy Bates on Doug. Noooooo!

Gypsy Girl(Brenda) said...

Never heard of the book I may have to check it out. -45 Really? Just the thought of it makes me cringe. The ski slopes here need more snow but I would not be happy if it were that cold.

Reds said...

BRRRR - that is COLD!! And I've never read that book - will look for it!

Margaret said...

Love your description of the book. I may have to tak a look at that one. And sorry that you're in the midst of such bone-chilling cold. Try to stay warm. :)

pat said...

My bones are aching after readin gof your expected wind chill. I can almost hear the snow squeaking in that photo. I've been kvetching about all our rain (11+ inches so far this month) but at least we don't have to shovel it, and it's in the 40s (above, that is).

Have you read "My Name is Mary Sutter"? Very interesting and a fascinating main character.

Barb said...

The answer to your question regarding "which way outta here" is go south. Very far south.