“She murdered her entire family!”

5180ubrqqzlBooks on Tap read  We Have Always Lived in the Castle   by Shirley Jackson at  Champion Brewery on January 5. Starting at the ending, most attendees didn’t care for the novella. A few had read Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” but the majority had not read any of her works, especially her memoirs of raising her family. The revelation of the murderer at the end was not a surprise to half the readers and the other half agreed that it was obvious upon a re-read. A few readers were enthusiastic about the spooky tone while others failed to find a moral in the story. However, after learning more about Jackson’s own agoraphobia and ostracization, many readers appreciated the symbolism more.

And symbolism abounds. Taking her source material from a real-life crime in England, Jackson transposed the setting to her small-town Vermont and based the the sister protagonists on her own daughters’ characters. Indeed, the fictional sisters read like two sides of the same person. Child-like 18-year-old Mericat, her older sister Constance and their uncle Julian live isolated in a grand house outside of town. Dogged by rumors that Constance poisoned her parents, brother and Julian’s wife, the trio seldom receive visitors and Mericat is the only one to leave the grounds. Variously teased and shunned by the townsfolk, she resorts to  magical thinking and rituals to defend her property. Uncle Julian is supposedly working on a family history but repeatedly asks Constance if his memories are true. Along comes cousin Charles, whom the reader and Uncle Julian know is bad news, upending Mericats rituals and routines  and thawing Constance. Mericat’s reaction to Charles tightens the underlying tension until the house burns down (debatably Mericat’s fault) and the fire chief implicitly gives the gathered townspeople permission to ransack the once forbidden house. While the townspeople then react by bringing food and other gifts to the sisters, Mericat manifests their psychological barriers by enclosing them in the kitchen and blacking out the windows. The futility of their hiding and rituals is exposed by rain pouring into the kitchen and neighbors, formerly kept at bay, pouring onto the footpath along the house. One reader pointed out that this was Mericat’s use of the feminine power available to her, versus the masculine power of Charles. Another thought the towns’ reaction was analogous to society’s fear of young women’s potential and the impulse to cage them. We all discussed the fine line Mericat rode between insanity and eccentricity, the distancing her peculiarities forced on the narrative and  how much better the story would have been as a Young Adult movie franchise.

Finally, we wish founding member Emily best of luck in the new Vermont chapter of her life!

More Information:
About the author
Author biography
Other works
Joyce Carol Oates on Jackson in the New York Review of Books
Upcoming film adaptation
Previous stage adaptations

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Biblionovels

Topics in biblionovels tend to revolve around books – bookstores, booksellers, libraries, and book clubs. They also occasionally have murder or mystery. If you’re a book lover and want to read about some of the same, try one of these titles.

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The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler – Esme is young student, recently broken up with, and newly pregnant. To cope with her new circumstances and escape the pressure of her Ivy League college, she takes a part time job at a used bookstore.

A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay – Librarian Lindsey Norris must solve a murder and a missing person’s case in the latest library lover’s mystery.

Murder in the Paperback Parlor by Ellery Adams – While organizing Valentine’s Day activities for book-themed resort Storyton Hall tragedy strikes when one of the most celebrated authors is killed.

Ripped from the Pages by Kate Carlisle – Book restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright discovers a treasure trove while exploring a cave on vacation that includes a mummified body in this bibliophile mystery.

Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Patillo – A new member and new reading list will help the women of the Sweetgum Christian Church knitting and book club discover that they can still be the heroines of their own stories.
 

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