Posted in Short Stories

Shirley Jackson: The Summer People

…the two old people huddled together in their summer cottage and waited.

It’s been a few decades since I read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery’ in high school but it made a memorable impression on me. However, I never knew much about her other work until I read something by Stephen King (I don’t remember what) that referenced her story “The Summer People”. Ever since, I’ve been on the lookout for it and was pleasantly surprised when it was included in The Best American Short Stories 1951 that I found at my library. After finally reading something else by Jackson, I thought I’d give this story it’s own post.

“The Summer People” covers some of the same themes as “The Lottery” – the problems of blindly following tradition and the horrors of mob rule. “The Summer People” perhaps is a kinder and gentler although still creepy version of these themes. This story focuses on the Allisons who want to break tradition and stay at their summer vacation spot past Labor Day but their summer community looks at this decision with shock and dismay because no one ever stays past Labor Day.

In “The Lottery”, Jackson doesn’t give us a lot of background but it doesn’t matter what we don’t know because what we do know is terrifying. On the other hand in “The Summer People”, it’s what we don’t know that makes our imagination run wild and provides the scary factor. It doesn’t matter what actually happens. We just know that with every statement made regarding nobody ever staying past Labor Day, the potential for terror increases.

I’m just glad the Allisons didn’t decide to stay after Labor Day AND wear white.

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