The Lottery and Other Stories is an uneven collection. If you've read any of my reviews about a collection of short stories, you've probably heard this before. “Uneven” sums up my feelings for every short story collection I've ever read. There are different levels of uneven, but it's only natural that some stories will resonate powerfully and others will simply be okay. Consistent writing is not an easy task for a writer of short stories, anymore than it is for a novelist. Creative ventures in any medium are going to fluctuate and people will have differing opinions about them (personally, I loved The Casual Vacancy).
The “problem” with this collection is that it's unevenness is on fully display. This is like watching a team of all-stars face off against a team of one superstar and a bunch of novices who barely know the rules of the game. This is like watching a bulky grown man on a teeter-totter with a toddler, adorable, but not carrying her weight. This is a collection of some of Jackson's best stories opposite of some that you could say are lacking (with “The Lottery” thrown in at the end). Keep in mind, that when I say these stories are “lacking,” some are quite alright. It's Shirley Jackson, so there's no such thing as a horrendous story. But her greatest moments of insight, development, and storytelling are there at the beginning to entice the reader. And her most famous story, “The Lottery,” is at the end to keep a reader going. Personally, were I to compile such a collection, I'd mix it up. Otherwise, a reader is given false hopes for an amazing second half and what follows is grueling. Throw in some of the less wonderful stories between great stories and the reader will be more forgiving, if they notice at all. And so this collection ends on a low note (especially if you've already read “The Lottery” several times before).
Jackson is most famous for her paranormal tales that explore dark aspects of human nature. The majority of the tales in The Lottery... contain no elements of horror or oddity, but they do largely explore human nature. I have previously read two of Jackson's more famous novels, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, but what really struck me about this collection is how deeply Jackson delved into the psychology of her characters. She was a wonderful explorer of what drives the human brain and how we react to changes in our environment. Though many of the stories in this collection lack a significant plot, always the story moves because of the actions and reactions of the characters.
Although I do wish The Lottery and Other Stories had been structured differently, it is still a collection of the highest caliber. Readers looking for stories with highly-engaging plots will likely grow bored with Jackson, in general; for those hoping for great characters and character development, Jackson is a treat. Already, I am eager to read more of her great work.