The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?



Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

14 responses to “The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

  1. gaskella

    I going to have to get the Lottery and read all HER short stories if these are better than ‘We have always lived in the castle’. I’m loving all these Penguin Mini Moderns posts – not one dud that I’ve seen so far which is saying something.

    • I now definitley want to read all of her short stories and I think I will have to pop The Lottery and Other Stories on my Birthday Books wishlist.

      I agree with you on the non dud effect too, every review I have seen of them has been nothing but great.

  2. Therese

    I don’t know if it still is, but The Lottery used to be in all 11th grade literature books. I still remember the shock and the ripple that went around the class. In the United States, there were lynchings after the Civil War and these were social events I have read. There are photographs of the crowd with parents, picnics, and children.

    • If the rest of the collection is like this, and in particular with a tale like The Lottery itself, I can completely see why it would be just the book to have on a syllabus. I don’t think Shirley Jackson is that well read in the UK in all honesty which is a shame as it seems to me shes one of the unsung american greats.

  3. Oo, you’ve enticed me… I do actually already have The Lottery & Other Stories, although have only read The Lottery (and that was online ages ago). I love We Have Always Lived in the Castle, so anything in the same line would suit. I have to say, the brief descriptions you’ve given of the stories have made me very keen to get my copy off the shelf – but I’ll be wise and not read them just before bed!

    • I wasnt as blown away by We Have Always Lived in the Castle as I was this small collection, but I think thats because this had not had any hype/recommendations wung my way and it completely took me by surprise.

  4. Pingback: Penguin Mini Modern Classics: Saki and O’Connor « Follow the Thread

  5. Oh, The Lottery still sends chills up my spine. Required reading in high school American Lit class, back-in-the-day, I remember reading it late the night before, and then so troubled I was unable to sleep. The ending has stayed with me for, okay, I’ll admit it, decades upon decades.

    You have intrigued me enough to want to read “The Tooth”.

    • Aha so it is on the syllabus, I am glad to see that and can completely understand why – though hopefully its not on of those books which students then hate because they were taught it at school (I am like that with Shakespeare).

  6. mee

    Oh you totally gave the ending away for the Lottery! (not for me because I’ve read it) I think the best thing about the story is the chill of not knowing what they do the lottery for only to find out at the end what it is. The shock! The horror!

    • Ooops do you think I gave a way too much, I hope not! I think its the premise once I had read it and the more I thought about it that unsettled me, not so much the initial ‘argh’ moment.

  7. I just finished three of her stories, and Tooth is really disturbing story and I re-read it again to get a grasp of what the author wanted to tell us. I cant imagine the pain and agony of having a toothache which affects every part of our body, including the brain! Witch and Charles allowed me to smile while reading it… very short but interesting on how children reacted to situations with adults!

    • I have issues around teeth and toothache so Tooth really, really bothered me I have to say. I too had the smirk at Witch it really made me laugh when the man said what he said to the kid. Especially the mothers reaction.

  8. Pingback: The Tooth, by Shirley Jackson | Novel Insights

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