We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My mother has the urge to pile. To be surrounded by things—bulk food in the kitchen, stacks of magazines in the living room, clothes and travel souvenirs in her bedroom, in my bedroom, and in the spare. My mother piles until it surrounds her, until it’s just her and the piles.
In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the diminished Blackwood clan of Mary Catherine, Constance, and Uncle Julian live in their family home, tidying rooms that no longer serve any purpose, but which keep alive the memory of those Blackwoods who were poisoned one evening at dinner. Mary Catherine superstitiously attempts to ward off the outside world, to keep the castle as is and the three (living) Blackwoods as they are, forever. But, in the words of Taylor Swift, “This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.”
My grandmother—my mother’s mother—used to compose a wall of pillows around my body at the start of an earthquake—this wasn’t ever the recommended protocol, and even knowing that (and trying to teach my grandmother the proper set of actions while she enjoyed a York Peppermint Patty) there was still something about it that felt right, instinctual, safe; something right about being surrounded by a great softness as the world shook. Unfortunately, that feeling of comfort, however silly, was only temporary. Even in my tender youth, I knew that you can’t stay inside a pillow fort your entire life—it just isn’t practical.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle explores the relationship between oddballs and “normies,” between accepted and eccentric, as so many have noted. But it also explores the push and pull of stability and change, the pressures of growing up and growing out. Steadily, sometimes painfully so, Shirley Jackson builds tension as we explore the mystery of what happened to the other Blackwoods through the remaining few. The book’s title We Have Always Lived in the Castle, hints at the family’s dogma and also the outside world’s disdain of it. How long before the castle is outgrown?–Miranda Tsang