My rating: ★★★★★
First of all, thank you to the blogger at Write Where I Read for recommending this short story to me. This is dark humor at its best! This very short story was precisely perfect in every way! I loved it!
This story is available online. Please click here to read the story before continuing – it will take about 10 minutes (there are some typos on the online version referenced). Spoilers are included below – it is often difficult to discuss such short stories without giving away the plot. I promise it is worth the read if you enjoy dark humor/horror at all!
Things I loved:
- Lamb to the Slaughter definitely has two meanings in this story! In its original sense it means someone that is innocent and does not ask questions. It describes someone you can lead anywhere and they follow… unaware of potential dangers ahead. In this story, Mary could be described in this manner. She is the epitome of the 1950s housewife – waiting patiently for her man to come home so she can dote upon him hand and foot. She does this blissfully and willingly with no inkling that things may ever change. But then things do change and Mary does not handle it well. Thus, the second meaning of lamb to the slaughter in this story… and it is extremely literal. Mary impulsively kills her husband with a leg of lamb.
- Mary ultimately isn’t the lamb you assume her to be at the beginning of the story. After her husband presumably tells her he wants a divorce (you don’t actually know what he says to her, but it strongly implies he is leaving her), Mary leaves the living room to go make dinner. She selects a leg of lamb from the freezer. On an impulse born from fury, Mary hits her husband on the head with the frozen leg of lamb and it kills him. Lamb no longer! Mary is now in charge and taking control.
- Mary’s husband was a police officer, so Mary understands some of the things police will do to investigate a crime. Mary goes about setting up an alibi for herself by going to the local grocery store to buy vegetables, implying to the grocer that her husband was at home waiting for dinner. Mary is smart and thinking fast on her feet and her “alibi” is now set.
- I found it interesting that the police that came to investigate the murder didn’t appear to suspect the wife at all. Only once, when they questioned the grocer, did the story even hint that they were investigating Mary as the possible killer. As a matter of fact, they kept referring to the murderer as “he”.
- Is this the perfect crime? Mary cooks the leg of lamb and actually gets the police officers to eat it, thus getting rid of the murder weapon! That is brilliant and creepy and awesome and macabre and borderline funny.
- Here is the text for the end of the story – it might be one of the most simple, yet satisfyingly creepy endings to any story I’ve ever read – short story or otherwise!
There was a good deal of hesitating among the four policemen, but they were clearly hungry, and in the end they were persuaded to go into the kitchen and help themselves. The woman stayed where she was, listening to them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and sloppy because their mouths were full of meat.
“Have some more, Charlie?”
“No. Better not finish it.”
“She wants us to finish it. She said so. Be doing her a favor.”
“Okay then. Give me some more.”
“That’s the hell of a big club the guy must’ve used to hit poor Patrick,” one of them was saying. “The doc says his skull was smashed all to pieces just like from a sledgehammer.”
“That’s why it ought to be easy to find.”
“Exactly what I say.”
“Whoever done it, they’re not going to be carrying a thing like that around with them longer than they need.”
One of them belched.
“Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.”
“Probably right under our very noses. What you think, Jack?”
And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.
The last sentence! “… Mary Maloney began to giggle.” Wow! Gave me goosebumps! Perfection!
Some details from Wikipedia about the story: It was initially rejected, along with four other stories, by The New Yorker, but was ultimately published in Harper’s Magazine in September 1953. It was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and starred Barbara Bel Geddes. Originally broadcast on April 13, 1958, it was one of only 17 AHP episodes directed by Hitchcock himself. The story was subsequently adapted for Dahl’s British TV series Tales of the Unexpected. Dahl included it in his short story compilation Someone Like You.
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