Shirley Jackson stories are great to a certain extent. “The Lottery” is possibly the most widely read short story in the United States, and it absolutely deserves to be revered has a hallmark of American story telling. There is a lesser known story written by her called We Have Always Lived in the Castle that is just as haunting and disturbing as her other stories. However, there is some reservations with the craft of story telling. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a weaker piece then Jackson’s well-known stories such as the aforementioned “The Lottery” or her other great novella, The Haunting of Hill House. This does not mean We Have Always Lived in the Castle is bad or poor. It just means it is not a must-read. It is a book for readers who are fans of Shirley Jackson or gore-free horror.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle follows the sisterhood of Mary Katherine Blackwood and Constance who live in a secluded home with their wheel-chair bound Uncle. Mary and Constance do not really build a relationship with their Uncle. Sometimes he just seems to be there then is employed by Jackson when she needs to drive the novel. There is an oddness to the family dynamic and there past history. It becomes abstract at times where some cannot help but to tilt their head at the text as their eyes glaze across. Maybe there is something missing. Maybe Jackson has developed a narrative form of cubism where she has broken the characters then they are reassembled in abstract embodiments. There is something off about the characters, but Jackson lets the reader know that others do too. The village where Mary, Constance, and there uncle have made them outcast. Well, everyone except Mary. Mary is the only contact that her Uncle and Constance have with the villagers. It is revealed early on that the villagers believe Constance had attempted to murder her whole family. Eventually, this builds to a dynamic climax where the villagers hunt down the Blackwood family like in one of those old Hollywood images of the monster being hunted down by a bunch of townsfolk wielding pitchforks and shovels.
The plot is interesting to talk and think about. What fails in this novel are the amateur writing errors Jackson continually makes. Take the opening line, which every writer knows is vital for hooking an audience: “My Name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old and I live with my sister Constance.” Jackson’s writing is dry in a lot of places like this and makes it a chore for the reader to continue. There is a reason why people still read when there are other mediums such as film and video games out there. Books still have a way of telling a story with captivating and invoking language that can make people gush like music. At times, Jackson’s writing just seems tired. It was her last book. Maybe she was tired.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just okay. It’s nothing great, but it isn’t terrible. Only if a reader is a horror fan or a Jackson fan should they venture into this book. Don’t look for too much, but also, don’t expect to receive nothing in return. Maybe it’s fitting to be ambivalent about a book with ambivalent characters.