Three decades after her death, Shirley Jackson is still widely admired for "The Lottery," her classic horror story of small-town evil. Reading Ordinary Day, one can't help thinking that, for Jackson herself, the true horror would be the knowledge that her previously unpublished or uncollected stories have been gathered in this volume—an event that feels less like publication than like indecent exposure. Many of these 54 stories seem to have been written less for art than for money; they appeared in such popular magazines as Charm, Woman's Home Companion and The Saturday Evening Post. There are pieces she wrote in college, fragments of fiction, sketches of domestic life.
Her son and daughter, who edited this edition, admit in their introduction that these tales are "not all charismatic heartstoppers on the level of 'The Lottery.' " But that disclaimer hardly prepares one for the clichés, the obvious ironies, the awkward writing, the predictable surprise endings, the paper-thin characters. Jackson fans will be dismayed; new readers will wonder why her reputation has survived for so long. Perhaps the book's most useful purpose may be to warn other writers to leave very clear instructions for their literary executors, or to burn every scrap they don't want published posthumously by their devoted and well-meaning heirs. (Bantam, $23.95)