Shirley Jackson creates a heavy, dreadful atmosphere in even the most mundane settings: a flower garden, a dentist’s office, the town square. Though her titular story is best-known for its cruel revelation in the end, her other stories create a more subtle ambiance of unease. Nearly all of her protagonists are lonely women; housewives or young professionals in the city who feel lost and trapped in busy streets or all-too-quiet country roads. There are several stories which incorporate a man of many roles named James Harris, the so-called Daemon Lover who leads others astray. Sometimes they are small manipulations, such as selling a much beloved book out from under a starry-eyed bookshop patron, other times more drastic, such as leaving his betrothed alone on their wedding day or luring a sleepy traveler into a dizzying frenzy of escape.
Shirley Jackson creates an impeccable world of sadness amid change, with several very short works (perhaps no more than five pages) devolving into frightening character rants about the newness of the world, the fast pace of daily life, and the unavoidable gaze of the many eyes around us. She uses this modern dread to examine the inner lives of women, the mechanizations of work, classism, and racism. This is a different kind of horror, a real one that manifests late at night when you feel out of place or right in the middle of the day when you can’t figure out how you got from Point A to Point B.