When Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, it caused several hundred readers to cancel their subscriptions. Now a classroom classic, this chilling parable about ritual murder in an isolated New England community no longer feels subversive, just delightfully odd.
Also included in this re-issued collection by Penguin are 25 further stories – a welcome chance to re-sample the work of a writer who was rumoured to "write with a broomstick instead of a pen." Jackson, who died in 1965 at the age of 48, was one of the most commercially successful women writers of her generation. Alongside horror novels, including the cult classic The Haunting of Hill House, she also churned out "feel-good stories" for the women's periodicals of the day. The best of Jackson's more serious short fiction explores the themes of isolation, psychic disturbance and the random cruelty of fate - it's perhaps no surprise that her best stories feature Fifties housewives on the brink.
In the most nightmarish story in the collection, "The Daemon Lover", a young woman spends her wedding day searching the city for her husband-to-be; while in "The Renegade" a housewife is shocked to discover her children's appetites are no less primeval than those of the family pet. Dorothy Parker once described Jackson as an "unparalleled leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders". Halloween is just the time to discover them.