We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Reading Challenge Book Review)

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my.

I mean, holy moly, what a book. This was #8 (a book with a cat on the cover) and #34 (a book recommended by a favorite author, and that would be Edgar Cantero, who has a new book out this July, yay!) for my 2017 reading challenge.

Many years ago, my son Monster played soccer, and I did my time as The Soccer Mom The Other Soccer Moms Don’t Speak To. It’s always been that way for me, that I don’t really fit in much of anywhere, and most of the time I’m all right with it, I realize I just have different vibes from most people, but when people don’t answer your greetings time and time again, it wears thin. (I would not learn until later that the stereotypical soccer mom is someone I can’t stand being around anyway, so absolutely nothing was lost to me.) I would wonder, is it because I don’t wear my hair in the right kind of ponytail, or drive a minivan, or dress in hideous mom jeans? During one game Monster got the wind knocked out of him, and I was stopped and confronted as I tried to go to him where he lay on the field: “Who are you?” Um yeah, I’m his mother, and you might know that if you didn’t just look right through me when I say hello. Whatever. I enjoyed his games, and spent the practices apart from the others, with a book. And I was not sorry when he decided he didn’t care for soccer. (Or football. Or baseball. He likes to watch them, but for participation he prefers solitary or one-on-one sports, like running or racquetball.)

That kind of other-ing is one basis for We Have Always Lived in the Castle. But which came first, the other-ing, or the agoraphobia and sociopathy? Who did it to whom first? Schadenfreude, anyone? And who is the real bad guy here? “Oh Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.” Just as I was happy with my book on the sidelines, not being included on the Snack Mom roster. And this is where the rubber meets the road, that I have to admit wishing their perfect blonde ponytails would fall out, much as Merricat Blackwood wished all the people in the grocery would drop dead, savoring the thought of stepping over the bodies as she put eggs and sugar in her shopping bag. And I fully recognize that when we are attacked, and driven back, we can make a new refuge within even smaller confines, and pretend we are happy there while laying even stronger spells for protection.

So, yeah. I read this entire book (quite short, at 146 pages) in a single night/evening, and it zoomed straight up to my hallowed shelf of All-Time-Most-Favoritest-Books-Ever. Jackson’s writing is crisp and concise yet paints an unsettlingly lush portrait of ostracization, neurosis, insularity, mob-mentality hatred, and collective guilt. It brims over with sympathetic magic, buried treasure, dark humor and irony, old murder, the ties that bind. No ghosts or gore; this is psychological creepiness, the kind I like best. The characterizations are sublime. It’s not until you really begin to think about why Mary Katherine and Constance and Uncle Julian do what they do that you see the switchbacks and the ironies, the layers of misdeeds and misperceptions and mistreatments that cradle and blanket the family skeletons. I did not think the unreliable narrator could be done better than Nabokov did in Lolita, and I was wrong. Merricat Blackwood may be my favorite narrator character of all time, reliable or un-.

You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine. Is it still in use? you are wondering; has it been cleaned? you may very well ask; was it thoroughly washed?

Pour a nice cup of tea (careful of the sugar), and curl up for an excellent read.

Bookshelves: classic, goth-lit, heebie-jeebies, literature-with-a-capital-l, sleep-with-the-light-on, schadenfreude, psych-thriller, reading-challenge, love-the-cover, plot-twists-and-irony, magic, mental-illness, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, thriller

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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