Dark Tales
Shirley Jackson
Penguin Classics
October 6, 2016
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Shirley Jackson (1919-1965) is rightly famous for her gothic novels (The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and the cult short story “The Lottery.”

A prolific author, Jackson actually penned a large number of tales, some published during her life in various magazines such as The New Yorker, and Fantasy and Science Fiction (but also in women’s press such as Charm and Good Housekeeping), some appearing in print only posthumously.

Jackson’s fiction is mostly dark, imbued with ambiguity, psychological distress, and quiet horror.

You may find some of her stories too puzzling to be fully enjoyable or some of her plots too weak to be completely satisfying, but even in her less-accomplished tales she constantly proves to be a great writer, so much so that a comparison with some of the so-called contemporary masters of dark fiction is simply embarrassing. A woman author writing especially about women characters, Jackson likes to create strange stories, sometimes reminding me of Robert Aickman (for example, “The Man in the Woods”, “A Visit”), and sometimes depicting Kafkaesque situations (for example, “Paranoia,” where a man tries hard to get home from work in spite of a strange stalker, and “The Bus” where, likewise, a woman bound to her home is trapped in an unnerving vicious circle.).

“The Possibility of Evil” is the superb portrait of an old spinster with a cruel attitude toward her neighbors, while “Louisa, Please Come Home” is a mocking tale about a young girl fleeing from an oppressive home, and building a new life in a different town.

The excellent and disquieting “All She Said Was Yes” features a teenager able to foresee tragic events that take place in the future, while the short and nasty “What A Thought” portrays a woman who suddenly feels the urge to kill her devoted husband.

Jackson’s knack for ambiguity is evident in two stories: “The Beautiful Stranger” where a (mentally deranged or very clever?) woman gets convinced that a skilled pretender has taken the place of her real husband, and “A Visit” (aka “The Lovely House”) which is an enticing, puzzling piece lost between reality and fantasy.

“Home” is a supernatural tale where a woman, relocated in a country village with her husband, experiences a scary meeting with the local ghosts.

The creepy “The Summer People” is one of the author’s most famous tales. A couple from New York, spending their summers in a country cottage by a lake, decide for once to postpone their return to the city and stay there one more month after Labor Day. A number of weird events and the hostile behaviour of the formerly kind village people suggest that their decision was wrong.