Author: Shirley Jackson
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: September 2015
“I can’t help it when people are frightened; I always want to frighten them more.”
Merricat is a woman of 18 who is stuck in a perpetual adolescence—mired in the mental trauma of the age when her family died. Well, when her family was murdered. Perhaps by her sister. At the dinner table.
Shirley Jackson’s final novel continues to gain acclaim long after the author’s life and death. For the full assessment, I suggest reading Andrew DeYoung’s analysis on The Stake, where he describes the “constant thrum of pervasive wrongness” that haunts the pages of this book. This is a truly unique and gripping story, and you can read it in an afternoon. Autumn would be best.
We read and discussed it at my work book club, and had a wide array of opinions on what Jackson was up to. Does the book hinge entirely on the big reveal, or is that just another plot point in a sea of subtle and shrouded character actions? Is the sisters’ obsession with food a glimmer of light in an otherwise overcast world, or is it just as sinister as the other aspects of the atmosphere? How much, or how little, are the villagers to blame for the psychologies of Merricat and Constance? Who is the best comic relief, Uncle Julian or Jonas the cat?
“I was thinking that being a demon and a ghost must be very difficult,” muses Merricat in one of her many creepy reveries. You know what else would be difficult? Being a human who can turn out a book of this caliber. There’s nothing else quite like it.