Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson Review

Dark Tales is an anthology of Shirley Jackson’s stories made up of previous collections Come Along With Me, Just An Ordinary Day and Let Me Tell You - there’s no new material here. And, let me tell you, it’s also by far the weakest fiction of Jackson’s I’ve read! 

I’m a big Shirley Jackson fan. I love The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Lottery and Other Stories, and have re-read each book at least twice, but the stories in Dark Tales are all pretty bad. 

Jackson’s style is very lo-fi for the most part, slowly introducing eerie, creepy elements and finishing strongly with a powerful scene. Her most famous story, The Lottery, is the perfect example of that though numerous stories, mostly collected in The Lottery and Other Stories, have knockout twist endings and an unsettling tone of dread throughout that builds to a horrific climax. 

The stories in Dark Tales start off similarly, focusing on the mundane everyday - and go nowhere. They just end as boringly as they began. Like in The Possibility of Evil, the character potters about her home and town, doing grocery shopping or cooking or writing letters, someone will do or seem a bit off, and then the story’s over. Louisa, Please Come Home sees a teenager run away from home and be forgotten by her family. Zzz… 

The more overtly supernatural stories are only slightly less dull and seem like corny Twilight Zone knockoffs. Like in The Bus where a stranded woman gets a lift to a familiar house that turns out to be her childhood home and she can’t escape it. The story Home features a pair of ghosts who like to sit in cars. Really?? 

Like in a lot of Jackson’s stories, the menace of small town America her paranoia made her feel is prevalent like in The Summer People but it’s so much better realised in stories like The Lottery or her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 

I suppose Dark Tales has well-written stories but Shirley Jackson is usually also able to grip and entertain the reader with the content as much as the style, and she fails consistently to do so throughout this collection. Evidently her best material is in her most well-known collection, The Lottery and Other Stories, which I’d recommend over this one. Dark Tales is full of nothing but bottom of the barrel scrapings - even if you’re a Jackson fan, this one’s not worth bothering with.

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