We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Cover to We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Author Shirley Jackson knew where the bodies were buried in the American psyche. Writing down her subtle suburban horrors during a period best known for Leave It to Beaver, she could put herself in the place of the outsider. The new neighbor who could not comprehend the quiet cruelty and amusement at her expense as she tries to interact in a straightforward fashion with her surroundings. Or, an intense young girl, estranged and tormented, who lives in a grand, crumbling house on the outskirts of town with her lovely sister and who may very well have killed off members of her family as they sat down to a meal.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson’s classic small-town Gothic, introduces us to the Blackwood family. Or, what’s left of it:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

For Mary Katherine, nicknamed Merricat, a simple and necessary trip into town is excruciating. The townspeople always thought the Blackwoods put themselves above everyone else. Now, what’s left of the family is fair game. After all, no one knows for sure that the Blackwood girls aren’t guilty.

Shirley Jackson has a gift for taking quiet characters, who were often bullied, and putting them into subtly horrific situations where their hidden strengths shine and occasionally implode. If you enjoy this book, also try her classic The Haunting of Hill House and another 20th-century Gothic, Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier. Look for an upcoming movie release of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, starring Alexandra Daddario, Taissa Farmiga and Crispin Glover.