Shirley Jackson’s last novel written in 1962 tells a creepy story narrated by an unreliable narrator, Merricat Blackwood. The two sisters are witch-like. Their home is an ancestral fortress complete with an impassable hedge keeping them in and the townspeople who hate them out. The story is a mystery, and I like how Jackson slowly reveals clues for solving the mysterious family’s past. Why does the town hate them? Is Constance a saint or killer? Is Merricat overly imaginative, clever young lady who lives in a fantasy world—the moon—or is she devilish and disturbed?
Add the anthropomorphic black cat Jonas. As a narrator, Merricat (her name is paired with the feline) comfortably communicates to her cat telepathically. Cat lovers will find this relationship between pet and owner charming. But it adds to the uneasy realization that our narrator is mentally unstable. Through the use of details, the reader senses danger for Charles–the newly arrived cousin. Merricat’s imagination grows darker and cold-hearted.
Constance is the perfect foil to Merricat. She is the good-witch in the story; she is caretaker to Merricat and the demented Uncle Julian. She has endless patience for her sister’s peculiarities, calling her repeatedly “Silly Merricat”. Her devotion to Merricat is endless. Suffering from agoraphobia, Constance remains secluded, appearing fragile. She cooks and cleans and is in charge. She does it all in a gentle, quiet fashion. To the women in the story, Charles is a pest, certainly to Merricat. It’s Gothic and if you appreciate E.A. Poe or the films of Alfred Hitchcock, you’d liked the story.
Don’t forget her famous short story, “The Lottery”(1948). A cry to the masses who follow blindly the traditions of society to wake up–influenced in part by WWII events. Also outstanding!