Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Another visit with the Blackwoods

It was a pleasure revisiting Shirley Jackson's Blackwood family after so many years away. I first read We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) when I was in college. Now in my late-in-life campaign to reread a few old favorites, I recently selected this aging paperback, and I think I enjoyed it more than I did in college.

Neither a horror story nor a ghost story, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is simply weird and macabre, something on the order of a Charles Addams cartoon. Most of Blackwood family died from eating poisoned food before the story opens, and Constance Blackwood, who does the cooking for the family, has already been tried for murder and acquitted. Now she lives with her younger sister, Mary Katherine, our narrator, and their elderly Uncle Julian in the crumbling Blackwood house on the edge of town. Most of the townspeople still think Constance a murderer, and they keep their distance. They do have a few callers, people too curious about this strange family to stay away. Mary Katherine runs the family errands, but keeps her time away from the house to a minimum because other people make her nervous.

They are content in their isolation until Charles, a cousin, comes to call and then stays and stays. He sweet-talks Constance, but Mary Katherine suspects his real interest is the money hidden in the Blackwood safe. She plots to chase him away. Then comes a fire that destroys much of the house, another death and further isolation. All this makes Mary Katherine's closing words, "'Oh, Constance,' I said, 'we are so happy,'" seem like just about the creepiest thing in the book.

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