The New Yorker's website has an excellent audio podcast of author A.M. Homes reading Shirley Jackson's chilling short story The Lottery. Read along with the text here. Jackson is famous for her classic novel The Haunting of Hill House, which has been adapted as a movie in 1963 (The Haunting).
SPOILERS AHOY! STOP READING THIS and listen to the story, if you've never experienced it before.
For those of you who remember reading this from your high school English class, it is definitely worth a second read. Jackson is a master of taking ordinary, seemingly pleasant details of small-town life and turning them into something truly dark. What I find most chilling are the mechanics of the "lottery within the lottery" at the end. Once the townsfolk have settled onto a family to be sacrificed, they have to re-draw to see which person within the group is actually killed. By this point the reader knows something truly dreadful is about to happen, and Jackson toys with the idea that we will be witness to the killing of a small child. And the mother in the family desperately tries to make her own grown daughters draw for the chance to be sacrificed as well (something you may have blown past if you were suffering a sugar crash while the teacher was droning on and on in an overheated room just after lunch.)
One of the older people helps little Davy take the slip of paper which could mark him for death. It makes me think of accounts of the Jonestown suicides, with parents lining up to help their kids drink the fruity dirt-nap juice. There's a point in every family's life when you realize that your crazy beliefs about the world are not helping your kids -- that perhaps you are harming them with your own fears and limitations. If you are decent you let them move beyond you. But people aren't always decent are they? For every bucket of poison Kool-Aid there are always folks who want their kids drinking right alongside them.
Jackson lets us off the hook. They kill the mother after all. It's almost a relief. And as the townsfolk closes in on her, some helpful adult hands pebbles to little Davy so he can help.
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