She is best known for the short story "The Lottery" (1948), which reveals a secret, sinister underside to a bucolic American village, and for The Haunting of Hill House (1959), which is widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written. In her critical biography of
Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.
Her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is a highly regarded example of the haunted house story, and was described by Stephen King as one of the important horror novels of the twentieth century. This contemporary updating of the classic ghost story has a vivid and powerful opening paragraph:
An earlier novel, Hangsaman (1951), and her short story "The Missing Girl" (from Just an Ordinary Day, the 1995 collection of previously unpublished or uncollected short stories) both contain certain elements similar to the mysterious real-life December 1, 1946, disappearance of an 18-year-old
Her other novels include The Bird's Nest (1954), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), and The Sundial (1958).
In addition to her adult literary novels,
She also wrote humorous sketches and short stories depicting everyday aspects of family life, which she published in popular magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and Collier’s, and later collected in her books Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957). A sort of fictionalized version of her marriage and the experience of bringing up four children, these works are "true-to-life funny-housewife stories" of the type later popularized by such writers as Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck during the 1950s and 1960s