Shirley Jackson – “The Bus” (1967)

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While avoiding students during some down time a few weeks ago, I found a copy of THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES – 1968.  Among the prominent authors listed on the page was Shirley Jackson.  I’ve always touted “The Lottery” as one of the key stories from my collegiate education that swayed me away from the gruesome fate of becoming a mathematics teacher (what the hell was I thinking?) to a much more soul-pleasing career as a high school English teacher (Phew! Crisis averted!)

The story lures the reader in the same way as her best known tale.  I don’t typically seek out haunting tales, but once I’ve finished them, I want to write blogs about them.  Jackson succeeds by placing a sympathetic character in a familiar situation (even to readers from 2014).  An elderly woman, suffering from social decline and (probably) rheumatism, becomes everybody’s grandmother whose coupons have been declined.  Whether we support traditional manners or believe the old ought to just die already, it becomes difficult for a reader not to feel for this woman.  Jackson doesn’t stop with mere sympathy though.  The woman’s depth is continuously strengthened by her exhaustion and frustration.  When the driver lets her off, of course the rain begins to fall.  The latter third of the tale whisks her into a realm for which she is abundantly ill-prepared.

Finally, the last image tends to destroy the reader’s predictions of her fate.  Why on earth would I give it away here?

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