3:46 pm Jul. 23, 2012
For ten days, we'll be suggesting some of our favorite audiobooks for the summer, in a series of articles brought to you by our partner, Audible.com.
Audible.com is promoting a special offer to download one our selections or a selection of your own for free, plus a free 30-day trial membership.
Click the link at the bottom of this post for details. Previously: Can You Forgive Her.
The Lottery and Seven Other Stories
By Shirley Jackson
Narrated by Carol Jordan Stewart
One of the odder transformations in American literature is the one that transformed Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery," from a widely-despised bit of cruelty inflicted on readers of The New Yorker in 1948 into a Norton Anthology selection that would become among the most widely assigned contemporary American short stories in middle- and high-school classrooms.
Jackson's acid-tinged story takes place in a small New England town on Lottery Day, when following an ancient tradition a black box is filled with papers, and with much attendant ritual citizens select paper until someone has drawn the single "blackball" slip, as it used to be called. Most of you know what fate awaits the winner, so I won't spoil it here.
The analogies to contemporary society are as facile to make on one level as those of Arthur Miller's much-assigned play, The Crucible, but as is sometimes the case with such stories, it brims with possible readings that go well beyond the obvious ones. In "The Lottery," as in much of Jackson's work, empathy and its place in society is really the baseline. The townspeople perform a brutal ritual by rote, and only the "winner" who is about to face the annual horror seems ever to realize, too late, how basically evil their town is. Tess Hutchinson has had her part to play in the lotteries of past years—why is it only now that she is its victim that she can see evil? And how can her fellow townspeople so readily divest themselves of their human impulses toward empathy for Mrs. Hutchinson for the sake of established rules of civilization?
I could wish that this audiobook version contained some others of my favorites among Jackson's stories—"The Tooth," "The Witch," and "The Daemon Lover" are among my favorites. But you'll find plenty to horrify you about the routines of small-town New England at midcentury in the stories here (the tiny moment captured in the very short "Trial by Combat," for instance; the precise coloring and characterization of "Come Dance With Me in Ireland").
Carol Jordan Stewart reads clearly and without hamming it up—her rather plain drawl, reminiscent a bit of Laura Linney's voice, is the right voice to read Jackson's straightforward prose.