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The Lottery April 11, 2013

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Two nights ago, I finished one of the books from the towering to-be-read pile. It was a good read, a fast read. But now I’m at an awkward reading point. I will soon leave for a trip to Arizona. If I start a novel, I will want to take it with me. If I’ve nearly finished it, I won’t want it to take up precious travel space. If I haven’t finished and I leave it behind, I’ll lose the thread. (No, I don’t have an e-reader, and no, that isn’t happening anytime soon.)

So I feel I must turn to collections of short pieces so I don’t get too attached.

And last night—finally!—I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

I’ve been meaning to read this story for years. Possibly decades. Sewa Yoleme gave me a wonderful collection of Jackson, and there it has been, sitting in that towering pile.

It’s a little masterpiece, disturbing in all its calm nonhorror until the very end. It’s so short and straightforward that I’m convinced that I’ve read way more about this story than its actual length. (If you don’t know it, read it, or read all about it online.)

What was more surprising to me was Jackson’s 1960 essay, “Biography of a Story,” which included the well-known facts of countless letters she and the New Yorker received, canceled subscriptions, etc. But she quotes many of the letters, which demand both answers to what the story means and names of actual locations where events like this take place.

I realize the story was written in 1948 and I am commenting from 2013 (when The Hunger Games and Survivor could be accused of being derivative). But my reaction is, What do you mean what does the story mean? and This is fiction! and Could you really be that stupid?

But the answer, of course, is yes, they could be that stupid, because people are today, so why would 1948 be any different?

Yet I have my prejudices about who reads the New Yorker, and I assume it is those kind of people who have always read the New Yorker, and I don’t think of them as stupid. Maybe my assumption is stupid.

Maybe I am the one who is stupid, taking a story to be a story.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” I scream . . .



1. Eulalia Benejam Cobb - April 12, 2013

It’s amazing how many supposedly intelligent people cannot distinguish between fiction and reality, and think that characters go on with their little lives after the story ends.

I empathize with your travel reading dilemmas. Fortunately, some airports have fairly decent bookstores.

Bon voyage!

2. Helen - April 16, 2013

I’ve even seen airport bookstores that let you buy a book and return it later and get some money back. Sort of like an overpriced (which is anything other than free) library.

I must read this story after reading this post.

3. Helen - April 16, 2013

Ah ha, I have defeated WordPress and its attempts to block my comments!

indigobunting - April 17, 2013

Helen kicks ass. (I’m so glad. I don’t understand all these complications!)

4. Dona - May 5, 2013

I adore Shirley Jackson and wanted to visit Bennington when I was in Vermont — but we didn’t have time.

You must read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was written, sort of, in a retaliation for how she was treated after writing the Lottery and takes place in the very same town.

Another great book of hers — is “Life Among the Savages” about raising her kids in Bennington.

I bought “Come Along With Me” but have not read it yet.

indigobunting - May 6, 2013

Dona, the wonderful collected works book I have has both those in it!

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