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Scavenging Book Stores and Libraries

Currently I'm a librarian and before that I was an archaeologist, a journalist, and definitely a bit of a world traveler.  I tend to mostly read science fiction and fantasy, though I do love a good mystery and I'm a bit of a book dabbler overall. I've been doing Goodreads for awhile, but a friend thought I might enjoy this as well. Let's see, yeah?

Most of Us Have Lived There, Too

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

It's going to be hard for me not to gush about this book.  It's absolutely amazing -- just so layered and full of truths and perfectly crafted characters.  It's just not a book for gushing -- it's a book to be praised.  I'll try to talk about it without spoilers, though I don't think it is a novel that would much be affected by spoilers.  I may ramble a bit because, well, I do that.  However, it's also because there is so much to impressed by.  


This is a very short work that I easily read in one afternoon.  I wasn't especially impressed at first -- partly, I was drowsing in the sunlight and the repetition at the beginning was confusing me.  Didn't I just read that?  Word for word...?  And then there is all this foreshadowing that seems to lead to a pretty obvious "twist" to come...


Well, I had and maybe it was -- and that's really important to the story.  Before I go there, however, I ought to talk about the plot.  There are three remainders of the wealthy Blackwood family living in isolation.  Their home is grand and rich and they keep very separate from the village nearby.  The inhabitants of the village have hostility towards the family -- perhaps for class differences, perhaps because of rudeness from the Blackwoods, perhaps because one was accused of murdering the rest of her family six years ago.   Likely, it's a bit of all these things and so much more -- Jackson is brilliant with her explorations of character and relationships.


Wait, murdered her family?  Yes, everyone knows of the sensational case that was publicized before the book ever started.  Everyone -- except the younger daughter, who was sent off to bed without supper -- sits down to eat and only the older daughter survives unscathed.  She's acquitted and, since then, no one from town has ever seen her or the uncle who survived, but was very broken.  The younger daughter does head to town for supplies.


It may seem like the murder would be the logical setting for the book, but, no, this is really a book about atmosphere and personalities.  It's about ways of dealing with the world -- good or bad -- and about strong family bonds.  To those who say the book is predictable, I say, I don't think this is a mystery.  It's not an M. Night Shyamalan movie where you wait for the twist.  It's actually a story about the "secrets" that people know, but never speak about it.


It's also about the way people treat each other and the horrible things people do when the community supports that cruelty -- that bullying, really, that we cease to call bullying once adults do it.  


Remember, Jackson also wrote "the Lottery" -- a story that I think most U.S. students had to read at some point in their education.  It really makes me wonder if I hadn't been more right than I knew when I wrote a last minute college paper about how the black spot in the lottery was really a metaphor for gossip in the community...  Once the target is found, they become the bearer of all sorts of animosity.  They're the scapegoat and no one can be satisfied until that person has born filled with community animosity and destroyed or driven away...


The further I moved through this book, the more enmeshed I became in the lives of the Blackwoods -- very strange lives, but also strangely familiar in parts.  I really felt like I understood them -- take the acquitted sister.  She seems a bit off -- but I feel like it's the trauma of being accused and then dealing with the media circus afterwards, the way that everyone suddenly feels like once a person is in the spotlight, they're no longer quite human...  They don't deserve respect or privacy or compassion.  They're a show now.  The younger girl, well, she's definitely off...  She's the origin of the repetition at the beginning of the book, using her obsessive compulsiveness to to keep her family safe.  And then you have the poor uncle, stuck trying to relive the last day he was whole and healthy...


Like I said, the great srength of this book is the exploration of people -- of individuals and communities.  There's definitely a healthy dose of "people can be horrible" (even your so-called friends) -- but there's also hope and compassion and love.  I just can't recommend this book enough.  If you have a little trouble getting into it -- like I did -- please just give it a bit more time.