“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”
“I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”This strange little family survives without ever deviating from their strict routines, remaining shut off from the outside world until one day an unexpected arrival threatens the fragile stability - of the family and of Merricat's mind. And the events that follow lead to the scariest and saddest ending presented in the most chillingly subtle way possible.
Our narrator, Merricat Blackwood, is not a character you can easily forget. She is written with such skill, with such vividness, with such persuasion that the pages come alive with her bizarre voice of a seemingly adult woman forever trapped in neverending childhood, in the world of twisted magical reality of strange rituals and special objects and strict routine that can never be changed, or else.
“I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain of dying. I would help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs.Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true."
"On Sunday morning the change was one day nearer. I was resolute about not thinking my three magic words and would not let them into my mind, but the air of change was so strong that there was no avoiding it; change lay over the stairs and the kitchen and the garden like fog. I would not forget my magic words; they were MELODY GLOUCESTER PEGASUS, but I refused to let them into my mind."And the scariest thing of all to me was how more and more enthralling Merricat's voice became with every page, with every minute spent inside her head, until it's hard not to take her side despite all the implications that it carries, despite reason suggesting otherwise, despite knowledge of what's going on. And that's when you realize the magnetic pull Merricat has, holding her little world together in the ways that suit her - little world it may be, but it's wholly her own, steadily holding against anything that can be perceived as a disturbance, an interference, a threat. And the words of her little game in the summerhouse take on a new resonance.
“Bow your heads to our beloved Mary Katherine…or you will be dead.”I found this book deeply disturbing in its deceiving simplicity, and scarily engrossing - the book written by an oddball ostracized agoraphobiac obsessed with food and trapped in her own little universe by the last years of her life. Shirley Jackson's Constance and Merricat, securely huddled in their own little corner of the world, not accepted but feared and left alone, the heart of legends and superstitions - was it in a way a cry for help or an unattainable dream? I don't know, and I think I sleep better precisely because I don't know.
“Oh Constance, we are so happy."