Shirley Jackson is one of the greatest writers of weird fiction of all time. Her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are landmark titles in the classic catalogue of acclaimed supernatural fiction. Her short story The Lottery has been widely anthologised since it was first published in 1948.
Dark Tales contains a collection of 17 short stories, most of them inspiring a disquieting sense of unease. Jackson captures a wonderful aura of Americana, with a welcome lack of pretentiousness. The writing is timeless, straightforward and deceptively ordinary, concealing a macabre and sometimes startling turn of phrase. Many of the stories have a vaguely surreal, yet coherent, feel, invoking the detached subtle qualities of a dream. There’s a great deal going on beneath the prose; hinting at things unspoken, a suggestion of things beyond what seems outwardly apparent. Like Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson also possessed a particular talent for documenting the little cruelties that go on in relationships, familial tensions and petty behavioural quirks, which lend the stories a dark emotional undercurrent.
As with any anthology or short story collection, not every story worked for me, but the ones that did, by far make up for the ones that didn’t. Shirley Jackson is rightly called a master of the dark tale, and Dark Tales does exactly what its title suggests, in showcasing her superb literary talent. Recommended.