I’ve got Shirley Jackson on the brain. I just recently finished reading Let Me Tell You, a forthcoming collection of short stories and essays by her, most of them previously unpublished. If you like Jackson’s writing and/or are intrigued by her personality, you’ll want to get a hold of that anthology when it’s released this late July. I loved the compilation of Jackson’s work, and when I finished it, I was left wanting more of her unique voice. So I turned to my personal favorite of all her literary efforts: her final completed novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was published in 1962, three years before her death at age 49.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, like Jackson’s signature short story “The Lottery” and other works of fiction by her, a tale that forces its readers to accept the conditions of a kind of alternate universe. It’s not a work of sci-fi or fantasy, but like a good Twilight Zone episode, it involves extraordinary human experience. To a great extent, the oddness of the spellbinding tale exists inside the mind of its narrator. I’ll let that singular personage introduce herself, via the opening paragraph of the book:
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.