The Halloran family has gathered in their crumbling ancestral mansion for a funeral. One morning Aunt Fanny has a vision wherein her long-dead father gives her the exact date of the end of the world. If the Hallorans stay in their family manse, they will be the sole survivors and inheritors of a bright clean world.
As you read, you wonder why these people deserve it.
Given the subject, it seems odd to say that The Sundial is one of Shirley Jackson’s funnier novels. It’s like You Can’t Take It With You with the apocalypse instead of the IRS. Also, this family is full of rather mean people who hate one another rather than a kooky assortment of loving individuals. Oh, and there’s also the probable murder and unsettling open ending. But really, it’s funny, in a character-based screwball comedy kind of way.
I had my pick of fantastically weird cover art for this one, and I chose my favorite because I think it reflects the core of the story: a dysfunctional family trapped together in an old house, bouncing off one another, and waiting for doomsday. Jackson always did oppressive atmosphere very well, and it’s approaching Hill House levels at the Halloran mansion. But, as I said, with some levity. There is a note of discord about this one, where it maybe doesn’t quite know what it wants to be–but somehow all the pieces make a delightfully odd whole.
The Sundial reflects a lot of Shirley Jackson’s interest in the occult, from divination to doomsday to symbols. And, as ever, her fascination with the intricacies of small-town life, from the villagers to the odd old family on the hill in their suffocating Gothic home.
Weird fiction fans, give this one a look!