My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am 18 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 the 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.—Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
As of two days ago, all I read of Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was a single short story, “The Lottery.” That should have told me something about the author, except it was so many decades ago that I read it. Then, last night I finished reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), a novel about a family in a small town that is hated by the townspeople because of a murder by poisoning that had taken place there six years before.
The inhabitants of the house include Constance and Merricat (Mary Katherine) Blackwood, and their aging Uncle Julian, who is in a wheelchair. It was the 29-year-old Constance who was suspected of poisoning her mother and father by adding arsenic to the sugar. She was tried and acquitted for lack of evidence. The mutual suspicions remaining after the trial have isolated the Blackwoods in their old gothic house: Only Merricat goes into town twice a week to do the grocery shopping. Although the townspeople are presented as curious and mostly hateful, the Blackwoods themselves live a serene life—until something happens to disturb their peace.
That something is the arrival of Charlie Blackwood, their cousin, who has eyes on Constance and what he imagines is the family money. There quickly develops a mutual animosity between Merricat and Charlie. Here is what the former thinks:
I was thinking of Charles. I could turn him into a fly and drop him into a spider’s web and watch him tangled and helpless and struggling, shut into the body of a dying buzzing fly; I could wish him dead until he died. I could fasten him to a tree and keep him there until he grew into the trunk and bark grew over his mouth. I could bury him in the hole where my box of silver dollars had been so safe until he came; if he was under the ground I could walk over him stamping my feet.
As much as she would like to be able to do these things, Merricat has no supernatural powers. (If she did, no one would be safe.) But she decides that a particular day would be the last day of Charlie’s unwelcome visit. At that point, all hell breaks loose. I will not divulge the ending, which is strange and curiously satisfying, but I will add Shirley Jackson to the list of horror story authors I discussed in my post of two days ago entitled Thirteen More Horrors.
In addition to “The Lottery” and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson wrote The Haunting of Hill House. I highly recommend that you give her work a try.