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We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson's 1962 novel, is full of a macabre and sinister humor, and Merricat herself, its amiable narrator, is one of the great unhinged heroines of literature. Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, and ritualistically revisiting them. She has created a protective web to guard against the distrust and hostility of neighboring villagers. Or so she believes. But at last the magic fails. A stranger arrivescousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune. He disturbs the sisters' careful habits, installing himself at the head of the family table, unearthing Merricat's treasures, talking privately to Constance about normal lives and boy friends. Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods. The result is crisis and tragedy, the revelation of a terrible secret, the convergence of the villagers upon the house, and a spectacular unleashing of collective spite. The sisters are propelled further into seclusion and solipsism, abandoning old habits in favor of an evernarrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated with gifts. Jackson's novel emerges less as a study in eccentricity and morelike some of her other fictionsas a powerful critique of the anxious, ruthless processes involved in the maintenance of normalcy itself.