The Lottery and Seven Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

What I’ve got for you today is less of a review and more a description of a book I read with Biscuit, and interesting connections we made.

In 1949 the short story collection titled The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson was published. Apparently, it was the only fiction collection published during her lifetime, and the book included 25 stories. Instead of reading this longer collection, Biscuit and I picked up The Lottery and Seven Other Stories, which was published in 1998 first on cassette tape, and later in 2010 in digital audio format. Why publishers chose just seven stories, and just audio (no text copy) is unknown to me, but they are seven stories from the original collection, not newly released or undiscovered works.

I’ve read a lot of Shirley Jackson, including the biography Private Demons, which posits Jackson as a person who struggled with mental health, affecting her writing, how she maintained her home, and possibly led to the general neglect of her children, though all of it was likely exacerbated by her husband’s obvious affairs and the restricted life of a woman in the 1940’s. I remember reading about the fatty processed meals she made every day, and the constant smoking. I recall that her four children had a general appearance of filth.

But on the outside, everything seemed more like Betty MacDonald’s life. Things may be hard, but life is typically funny and whimsical. Though she first published her personal life in women’s magazines, those stories ended up in the books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. Oh, the baby likes to ride in the car on her head instead of her bottom, or the animals around the house are like a regular zoo, etc. All shielding the mental illness, neglect, and unhappiness.

In contrast, The Lottery and Seven Other Stories presents domestic concerns that don’t appear to match Jackson’s own. People are obsessively tidy in their apartments, or fear an outsider coming in, sometimes moving in, in the case of “Men with their Big Shoes.” Other stories, like “Flower Garden,” guides readers into one uptight home, moves us to a more loving, modern home, and then scares us back to the safety of rigidity.

There’s a theme of pride in one’s home, and safety, and characters face dangers outside of what they know. It could be a young wife feels the degradation and speed of New York City threatening her, or a woman who goes to a new doctor to ask if she’s going crazy because the young people of the day use phrases like “psychosomatic medicine” or “international cartels” or “bureaucratic centralization.” As the doctor tries to explain “a period of international crisis,” the woman panics about the local newspaper stand not having a copy of the Times for her husband like they always do.

Biscuit and I started comparing these seven stories with our situation in the U.S. today, remarking on how the woman I just described would fare poorly in COVID, because she’s as inflexible as concrete. And in “The Lottery,” that wonderful story everyone seems to know thanks to high school English classes, at one point the guy running that year’s lottery responds to a person in the crowd who points out that other cities are doing away with the lottery: “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while.” Sounds somewhat familiar, perhaps?


  1. Oh those young folks, complaining about everything, where’s their gratitude? I know I read a story collection that included The Lottery for a book group back in the day but it was so long ago that I don’t know if it was the full 25 or a shorter collection. Either way, I did enjoy them. Jackson is a very good writer and I have enjoyed a few of her novels too.


    • It’s so weird to read her memoirs because they were originally published in lady’s magazines, so they’re cleaned up and made more “fun” and very “Oh, look at my zany life! Kids, am I right?!” And then I read a biography in which the author largely used quotes from people who knew Jackson, and holy crap is it dark.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Does not sound like my cup of tea. I do understand taking pride in one’s home though. I’m not out of control about it but I know I’ve looked at some houses and wondered how they could let it get so gross. There’s probably answers to that question but it’s really none of my business anyway. I didn’t get my own yard cleaned up to my tastes before winter hit so who am I to judge? Someone else might be thinking the same thing about my house!


  3. This sounds like an interesting collection. Strange that it’s only on audio. I’ve read The Lottery of course but never anything else by Jackson. I feel like I could probably relate to some of these stories!


    • By all accounts in her biography, Jackson was a terrible mother, so hearing that you can relate is a bit funny to me. There is a book called For Sale By Owner by Kelcey Parker, and it’s all about young moms that makes me think more of you. I will warn you that one story has a stillborn baby, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think I’m a terrible mother but more that focus on very mundane life details and feeling a bit crazy because your life seems to have boiled down to such basics that you’re excited about a new vacuum or the arrival of the mail. And maybe that feeling of the rest of the world seeming increasingly dangerous when you have children but you don’t have the time or energy to actually keep up with the news.

        The title of that other book combined with a conversation about terrible mothers brings to mind that infamous photo of the 4 children with the sign saying something like “Children for Sale, Inquire Within”. Is the book fiction or non?


  4. I’ve never quite clicked with any of the Jackson short stories I’ve read except ‘The Lottery’, but I loved We Have Always Lived In The Castle.


  5. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Jackson (including The Lottery). As for that quote about young people, a while ago there was a poll in the UK of the “how much do you agree with these various statements” type, and into the mix they threw a statement by (I think) Diogenes about lazy indulged young people. Lots of people rated themselves as “strongly agreeing” with this sentiment from around 350BC…


  6. I read Life Among the Savages and was struck by a sense of sadness beneath the madcap tales. It made me mad for her, that she had so little help with kids and household. I love her short stories, they’re so smart and insightful about the darker side of human nature – she is one of my favorite writers. I’m glad she’s had a resurgence of popularity the last decade or so. She deserves it.


  7. I have never read The Lottery (maybe its an American thing to read this in high school – it sounds way more fun than what I was forced to read!) but I think I would like it. I agree that there’s this really fine line between a neglectful household, and a family where anything goes and it’s just general chaos. Kids looking filthy all the time though – never a good sign!


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