Shirley Jackson – The Summer People

The third story I’ve read by Shirley Jackson, and all three have been superb. This one has really gotten me thinking about how well we really know the “worlds” with which we believe ourselves familiar, and how infused our own vision of them might be depending on the specifics of season or time of day…

A couple from new york spend their summers at a country house on a lake. One year, despite the incredulity of their seasonal neighbors, they decide to stay an extra month (“past Labor Day”) and find that their ‘summer eden’ can be a very, very different place

17 Pages.

In themselves, the Allisons’ were ordinary people. Mrs Allison was fifty-eight years old and Mr Allison sixty; they had seen their children outgrow the summer cottage and go on to families of their own and seashore resorts; their friends were either dead or settled in comfortable year-round houses, their nieces and nephews vague. In the winter they told one another they could stand their New York apartment while waiting for the summer; in the summer they told one another that the winter was well worthwhile, waiting to get to the country.

“I’d hate to leave myself,” Mr Babcock said, after deliberation, and both he and Mrs Allison smiled. “But I never heard of anyone ever staying out at the lake after Labor Day before.”

The first few hurdles appear when they are told that they can’t have any more oil as it’s brought there from far away and always only enough to last for the summer and not a day longer. Then the deliveries won’t come either as the boy who does them had gone back to school. Then the car breaks down and there’s no-one answering the phone at the local garage.

The room seemed unexpectedly dark, and she herself felt in the state of tension that precedes a thunderstorm, but both times when she looked the sky was clear and serene, smiling indifferently down on the Allisons’ ‘ summer cottage as well as on the rest of the world.

The phone goes next. They didn’t have any lights either so they let the storm outside and the small glow of the radio create enough ambience to pass the evening in solitude.

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“The car had been tampered with, you know. Even I could see that.” Mrs Allison hesitated a minute and then said very softly, “I suppose the phone wires were cut.”

Here it comes! The intrigue we’ve all been waiting for! But then all of a sudden it’s over.

The wind, coming up suddenly over the lake, swept around the summer cottage and slapped hard at the windows. Mr and Mrs Allison involuntarily moved closer together, and with the first sudden crash of thunder, Mr Allison reached out and took his wife’s hand. And then, while the lightning flashed outside, and the radio faded and sputtered, the two old people huddled together in their summer cottage and waited.

I’m mildly suspicious of my neighbors now… and I live on a lane surrounded by family in the country. I guess I better stock up on kerosene, just in case

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