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?