The Sundial (1958)

Shirley Jackson
Ace Star K-166

I think to fully appreciate this book, the reader must be extra-smart or from New England. Twelve odd people--each an emblem of some form of 19th-century aristocratic eccentricity--sit around in a giant old mansion waiting for the end of the world, an apocalypse predicted by the clan's spinstery "Aunt Fanny." Every scene and exchange appears fraught with deeper meanings, but most of these were beyond me. I did apprehend, however, some type of allegory about nuclear anxiety, since at one point they burn all the books in the library and replace them with provisions for the end times.

At one point a disillusioned 17-year old delivers the following speech to her 9-year old ward, who is anxious about never having a chance to meet boys, go to parties, and live in "the real world." "I can tell you there's no heart to anything anymore; when you dance with a boy he's only looking over your shoulder at some other boy, and the only real people left any more are the shadows on the television screens... There's nothing there...It's a make-believe world, with nothing in it but cardboard and trouble." As an afterthought she adds, "If you were a liar, or a pervert, or a thief, or even just sick, there wouldn't be anything out there you couldn't have." Has the same general vibe as the episode of The Outer Limits with the giant brain that keeps everyone hostage in an old Victorian house--which I can now see was probably a harried TV writer's attempt to rip off Ms. Jackson by simply plopping a giant brain into her otherwise wholly gothic scenario.

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