Lani's Reviews > We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
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Jul 10, 2007

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Recommended for: "flatlanders" living in Vermont

Whenever I read a Shirley Jackson book, I find myself looking for North Bennington familiarities in her settings. "The Lottery" and "The Haunting of Hill House" were both set in North B. (Bennington College's Jennings mansion is infamously the setting for "...Hill House.") And "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" also hints heavily at the same shared locale. ...If you are familiar with the layout of the town as it was in the early 1960s, you can realistically picture Merricat's journey to the library, grocery store, etc.

Although Jonathan Lethem (Bennington College alum) claims "...Castle" is Jackson's best book, and although it was one named of TIME magazine's "10 Best Books" the year it was published (and adapted into a Broadway play soon after), I found the slim, spare novel lacking. Sure, it's spooky and weird -- Jackson's hallmarks -- but the characters aren't particularly well developed, plot lines are left hanging, and the reader has to rely ona lot of guesswork to piece the story together. (Also, arguably, Jackson's hallmarks.)

However, the book IS fascinating in its depictions of hornery, callous, old-time Vermonters, ("greenbloods," as I've always called them), and their treatment/resentment of those who don't quite fit in to their idea of what makes an acceptable neighbor. ...Themes that still, sadly, resonate in my adopted state. Jackson biographers note that she was uncomfortable with small-town Vermont life, especially as an educated, cultured "flatlander" and faculty wife, and often felt ostracized -- themes that undoubtedly come out in this work and others (most famously, "The Lottery").
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