Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reading Journal: The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson (1948)

It's the only collection of her work that appeared during her lifetime, but Jackson can safely stake her reputation on this one volume; it contains the leanly-written title story, her most famous, about a completely absurd and horrific small-town ritual, but among the other 25 included here, there are almost no letdowns. "Elizabeth," for me, was the second-best, a story that explores personal, professional and other kinds of jealousy and competition between two women, both employees of a man who always tells them everything they want to hear. And the collection opens with a strong pair, too: a teenage girl has a bizarre conversation with a drunk guest of her parents in "The Intoxicated," and in "The Daemon Lover," we share in the painful and seemingly eternal wait for a meeting with a man who has expressed interest in the narrator but never shows up. In all, the stories are on the sardonic side, not always challenging but demanding your attention as Jackson attempts to show you the how and why of the way people act, and hints all the while at the underlying reasons. A signpost collection for anyone interested in the short story form.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reading Journal: Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, by Stuart Ross (2011)

A short, episodic novel written in Ross's trademark, all-over-the-place style that takes you through the coming-of-age of its narrator and into his later life, where he is continuously confronted with a memory of his mother committing a murder. I preferred this novel to his short story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, (reviewed here in Winter, 2011), because of the restraint he showed this time around, making even some of the most "out there" chapters - such as the one written from the point of view of the bullet - into self-contained stories that also give you a new piece of information to move the narrative forward. A quick and engrossing read that I started and finished on the same bus ride, (Toronto to Gravenhurst), from an unorthodox Canadian writer everyone should check out.