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RoosterVision: Shirley Jackson’s DARK TALES (Penguin Classics, 2017)
An ongoing series of articles spotlighting movies, music, art, comics, and other assorted media.
…an ongoing series of articles spotlighting movies, music, art, comics, and other assorted media that we at Rooster Republic Press find ourselves enjoying. Once a week, on Thursdays, we will showcase new and old works and, hopefully, help spread the word on great stuff you might otherwise miss out on.
RoosterVision was previously the name of our non-fiction imprint, and since those titles and that line of books are no longer, we have decided to resurrect RoosterVision for the purpose of this showcase. Enjoy!
We’re covering classic territory in this week’s “RoosterVision” article. DARK TALES is a superb collection of Shirley Jackson’s short fiction. These stories, as alluded to by the title, are certainly her more horror-centric fare. Though, as with most of her work in this vein, she leans less into genre tropes but heavily into psychology of character. Sure, there may be monsters among these pages, but they are decidedly the human monster.
But what monsters!
Characters like Adela Strangeworth in “The Possibility of Evil,” who is an absolute villain but doesn’t know it, and for whom the phrase “reap what you sow” is all too fitting. It is her story which is depicted by the book’s cover image. Adela loves her roses, loves her little letters, and not for one moment does she suspect she’s anything but a model citizen. But, when the metaphoric mirror is finally held up to her, what she sees utterly devastates her.
Or, how about Margaret, from “What a Thought,” the dutiful housewife who suddenly cannot stop thinking about killing her husband. She knows she loves him. He isn’t a threat to her in any way. But, once the thought settles in, Margaret simply can’t bring herself to stop thinking of scenarios where the man ends up dead. Like Adela, Margaret has a problem with identity, and who she imagines as her real self may not be who she really is at all. Just a few pages, but they’re riveting.
Evil, in many Jackson stories, is usually very benign. Small misdeeds unravel into much bigger consequences. Idle thoughts reveal rotten cores. An interrupted routine could likely lead to murder. Sometimes, however, she writes something like “Jack the Ripper” or “Home” and the evil is downright ghastly.
And for you fans of Gothic lit, there is much to love about “A Visit,” the collection’s longest work and probably the weirdest. Perhaps the only story here to pay mind to proper tropes? They’re certainly there, if you’re looking for them. Romance, women in towers, strange secrets. Jackson’s delivery is very much her own, however, and not only will you find characters questioning themselves, but you will be questioning right along with them. Rare is the story that reads one way, initially, and completely another on the second go.
A really wonderful collection for horror fans who may only be familiar with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE or WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. It’s a slim volume, and it contains a lovely foreword by Ottessa Moshfegh (who we plan on covering in a future “RoosterVision” article). We’d give DARK TALES our highest recommendation.
You can grab a copy of DARK TALES via a number of outlets at the Penguin website HERE.