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Note on “Strangers in Town”

January 1, 2013

Today I read a short story by Shirley Jackson called “Strangers in Town.” This story is a “social-satire” as the author mingles the ordinary world with the supernatural to criticize some of the less charming facets of human nature.

The narrator of this humorous story is Addie Spinner. She begins with: “I do not gossip.” This irony is humorous in itself, as it soon becomes clear to me that Addie does gossip — just not about fairies and leprechauns — she prides herself on “sticking to the facts.” Addie is a bit of a hypocrite, but I wonder if she even knows it!

The interaction between Addie and her new neighbors is very funny. Their maid, Mollie, answers Addie’s questions with humorous evasions; I think she is wise and knows Addie is being nosy about the scintillating rumors spreading through town that the new people are “crazy.” Mollie’s answers only deepen or affirm Addie’s beliefs that these neighbors are truly crazy. Addie’s judgements and suspicions” begin while the neighbors are moving in, and she sees the “small cocktail tables” and all the dishes. Further, Mollie tells Addie she “uses a lot magic” in order to get the house up and running.

The gossip and rumors continue, with “average or normal” situations being embellished into something more, until finally the neighbors decide to move. They do it so quickly, in just a day, that it is perceived as odd and only adds to their mystery. Afterwards, Addie’s cat has kittens, presumably by the neighbors cat, who ate a whole chicken a day and homemade donuts. Addie’s friend Jane claims there is just “something uncanny” about those kittens, but then Jane would gossip “even about kittens.” Addie ends her narrative with the statement “and gossip is one thing I simply can not endure.”

The story was well written and funny. Actually, I am now interested in reading some more of Shirley Jackson’s other work. Apparently, all of her stories are not so “light and humorous;” she established her reputation as a master of the horror story in 1948 with her story “The Lottery.” Her early short stories have been collected into a volume called “The Lottery; on the Adventures of James Harris.” Mrs. Jackson also wrote novels which found favor with both readers and critics.

Footnote: Another short story that I love is by Sarah Orne Jewett called “A White Heron.” You can find this one on the Internet. I am sure because bm Grandma found it there. I will be reading it again and discussing it next!

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