Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Short Story Wednesday "The Possibility of Evil" Shirley Jackson


First published in 1965 in the Saturday Evening Post, a few months after Jackson's death, "The Possibility of Evil" won the Edgar for best short story in 1965. A self-satisfied spinster in a small town is especially proud of her roses, which she never allows people to cut. As she walks through town, her thoughts condemn everyone she passes. We learn that for the last year she has been sending poison pen letters, often ones filled with lies. When she is exposed at the end, her roses pay the price for her evil.

Now this story feels more familiar than it probably did in 1965. What makes it better than most of this type of story is the detail and the care put into laying out her life, her misdeeds and how she is caught out. It is only six pages long and there is not a wasted word. Although it is not on a par with "The Lottery" you recognize the mind it came from.

The Possibility of Evil 


Kevin Tipple 

George Kelley 

Jerry House 

Casual Debris 


Todd Mason


Margot Kinberg said...

Shirley Jackson wrote such great short stories, Patti. I'm glad to see this one here. I need to go back and read some of her work again.

Jerry House said...

A theme that has echoed throughout her work. Think her first novel, THE ROAD THROUGH THE WALL, THE WITCHCRAFT OF SALEM VILLAGE, and "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts."

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a complex life.

Marty said...

Just read this thanks to your link. I like the way Jackson left some things to your imagination making the horror worse than actually reading a description.

Todd Mason said...

And when I first read it, it also reminded me of what I still think of as Richard Matheson's best short fiction, "The Distributor"...

Mine will be up shortly.

Todd Mason said...

I think "Root of Evil" (Jackson's one story in FANTASTIC) could also go up on Jerry's list...and in confirming I had the title right, I discover that one of Edward Wellen's first stories had the same title and was published within months of Jackson's, so I will be going to look at that one soon, I hope...1953 was root of evil's year, clearly.

George said...

Shirley Jackson shocked the literary world with "The Lottery" and continued to write memorable stories throughout her career. She knew how to push the Dread Button.

Casual Debris said...

A great story and a great writer, in both the long and short form. And Matheson's "The Distributor" is also a great story--impressed me when I first read it.

Here is mine for this week:


neer said...

I need to read more of Jackson. Here's mine for this week: Missing from their Homes (ed) H.E. Bates

Jeff Meyerson said...

Yes, I've read the Jackson and your recap brought it back to me. Good writer.

I've been reading Lucia Berlin's collection A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN. It is clearly at least partly autobiographical - spending her high school years in Santiago, Chile, working as a hospital ward clerk and a substitute teacher, using all her quarters in a laundromat. It's very real.

A while back I got Ian Rankin's THE RISE free from Amazon. It's called "A Short Story" but is more a novella - 85 pages. It's set in an exclusive London high rise, where the apartments go for millions and only a handful are occupied. The night security guy is killed. It's nothing exciting, but a fast read.

Also reading THE PENGUIN BOOK OF MURDER MYSTERIES, which is a series of lesser known 19th Century stories. I've only read one so far.

TracyK said...

Sorry to comment so late. I wrote this comment earlier and then did not "publish" it.

I read this using your link also. It was a good read, not too unsettling. This story is in a book of Jackson's stories, DARK TALES, which I have been thinking about buying. Based on this story, I will go ahead and do that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never read a book by Ian Rankin. A real hole in my reading.
Yes, it is not too unsettling especially compared to THE LOTTERY, which terrified me in middle school.