Beloved author Shirley Jackson would have celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 14, had she lived to see it. In honor of this auspicious occasion, I've got 10 essential Shirley Jackson short stories for you to read this week. Many of them are available online, so find a comfy chair and huddle in with your hot beverage of choice.
Most of us came to know Jackson's work through her 1948 short story, "The Lottery," which has become part of the core curriculum for high school English classes across the country. That tale aside, the author is best known for two short novels, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both of which have been adapted for the big screen.
Shirley Jackson has a unique knack for finding the horror in everyday situations. Sometimes her stories feature outright supernatural dealings and wicked entities, but much of her writing plays upon the genuine fears of everyday people, twisting them just enough to be scary, but not so much that they become implausible. If you've never read Jackson, but you love Flannery O'Connor, you might just find your new favorite writer here.
Check out the 10 essential Shirley Jackson short stories I've picked below, and share your favorites with me on Twitter!
1. "The Lottery"
You might remember Jackson's most famous short story from your high school English class, but you should definitely give it a re-read. This haunting tale about a village with a strange summer ritual is available to read for free online.
2. "The Missing Girl"
This story of a disappearance at a New England summer camp is a testament to WASPy sensibilities, particularly the capacity to explain away the unsettling and unthinkable as figments of the imagination.
Showcasing Jackson's lighthearted side is this funny short story about a young boy, Laurie, who comes home from his new preschool full of stories about a troublemaking class clown named Charles.
4. "The Possibility of Evil"
"The Lottery" aside, "The Possibility of Evil" might be Jackson at her finest. An old lady in a small town spends her time reflecting on the evil that lurks in the hearts of her neighbors, and writes nasty, divisive letters to bring it to a head.
5. "The Daemon Lover"
This short story opens with the unnamed narrator's preparations for the day's big event: her elopement with her fiancé, Jamie. But as the day wears on and Jamie does not appear, the narrator becomes increasingly anxious.
6. "Pillar of Salt"
Several of Jackson's short stories deal with the pressures of big-city life. In "Pillar of Salt," a woman's opinion of New York City quickly sours when an otherwise normal chain of events proves too much for her to bear.
7. "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts"
Mr. Johnson is a man with a pocketful of peanuts and a knack for helping people out. But his life is not always as it seems, nor are his motives entirely understandable. Imagine "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" as a Twilight Zone episode; it plays out great in black and white.
8. "The Tooth"
Afraid of the dentist? Don't read this story before you go in for a cleaning.
9. "The Summer People"
A New Yorker couple, the Allisons, have rented a house on the lake for the summer, but they love the little waterfront town so much that they've decided to stay on for another month, past Labor Day. Problem is, Labor Day is when everyone leaves the lakehouse, and for good reason.
10. "The Witch"
A train trip with her young children turns frightening for a woman when she realizes the strange man in their train car might be dangerous — and that her little boy may be as well.