Friday, 23 December 2011

Richard Matheson – Some Short Stories...

A shorter than normal post today, so much to get done before Christmas...


We might act cool and make out that what’s on the cover on a book wouldn’t dissuade us from picking it up. I’m not so sure though, at least from my own perspective. I’ve still to see the Will Smith ‘I Am Legend’ although the reviews I’ve seen suggest that I might just be better off sticking with the book... Tor very kindly sent me a copy of ‘I Am Legend’ (so did Gollancz but that’s another story) and my first thought when I saw it was, ‘oh no, it’s got the Will Smith cover...’ I know that sounds really ungrateful but there you go.

I guess the point of this post really is to give you all a little heads up and say that even though the cover might seem off-putting at first give this edition a chance; there’s much more to this book than meets the eye and I’m really glad I picked it up.

Get past that front cover (which isn’t actually that bad...) and you’ll find that not only are you getting ‘I Am Legend’ but you’re also getting a collection of short stories as well. Short stories that scared the you know what out of me... The quality may vary but only because Matheson is prepared to take a shot at experimenting with different writing styles. ‘Dress of White Silk’ is written from the perspective of a small girl and her language stops the story from being as clear as it would like to be. The end line rescues things though and in some style. If there’s one thing that Matheson is good at, it’s a killer final line that turns everything on its head and leaves you gasping. ‘The Near Departed’ is a great example of this with the line “As soon as I get home”... It makes me shiver even now and I highly recommend you track this short story down even if you don’t read any of the others. I wasn’t too keen on ‘Dance of the Dead’ either as the attention paid to the spectacle seemed to come at the expense of any point to the story...

The short story section actually opens with ‘Buried Talents’, a weird tale that focuses on fostering a sense of unease around something that cannot be explained. The real twist comes in the final paragraphs though and the reader has to really pay attention if the final line is to make any sense. Re-read that bit as many times as you need to, the end result is worth it.

‘Prey’ is probably my favourite story in the collection, a fast paced and remorseless affair where a woman is trapped in her house by a killer doll. While I ended up skimming certain other stories (I’m looking at you ‘From Shadowed Places’, you meandered in all the wrong places) I couldn’t take my eyes off ‘Prey’ until it ended and, even then, it still played on my mind afterwards.

‘Witch War’ didn’t look like there was much to it at first but the shocks came through the contrast between these sweet looking girls (with their banal conversation) and what they were able to do to the enemy. Matheson doesn’t hold back and this just makes things that much more powerful.

Things took a comedic turn when I got round to reading ‘The Funeral’ (creepy but intentionally amusing) and this change in tone came at just the right time, after the creeping madness and inevitability of ‘Mad House’. ‘Mad House’ is a nasty but compelling read, I could see the ending coming but found myself reading on to see if Chris would realise what was happening and get out. Another powerful ending was on display here and Matheson turned Chris’ anger back on himself in a way that will have you eyeing your household furniture nervously (if you’re anything like me).

Things were rounded up with ‘Person to Person’, a devilish tale where Matheson keeps turning things round until neither the reader nor Millman knows what’s going on. The ending is all the more scary for this as you’re left still not really knowing any of the reasons behind it. What a way to keep you thinking about the story after you’ve read it...

‘I Am Legend’ is a book that’s worth picking up anyway but if you see the Tor edition (mass market) then definitely pick it up; there are some real gems here for those who enjoy a chilling read...

4 comments:

Carmen said...

I will put my hands up and admit I am the worst for judging a book by it's cover. Sometimes I don't even get to the blurb on the back of a book. I know it's bad, I know it's wrong and have probably missed out on a load of great books.

So when I eventually buy my copy of I Am Legend - I'll get this one for the short stories too. Thanks for the heads up Graeme.

Happy Christmas to you and yours!

Bob (Beauty in Ruins) said...

Matheson has always been one of my favourite short story authors. You really can't go wrong without anything he writes.

Matthew Bradley said...

I AM LEGEND is by far Matheson's best-known, most influential, and most frequently adapted work, previously filmed with Vincent Price as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and Charlton Heston as THE OMEGA MAN. But this edition contains a nice cross-section of stories that were also brought to the screen, some of them with scripts by the author himself.

He adapted "Prey" as the final segment of the TV-movie TRILOGY OF TERROR, with a standout performance by Karen Black as the woman terrorized in her home by a lethal Zuni fetish doll. He also scripted "The Funeral" as a humorous segment of the NIGHT GALLERY anthology series, and his son, Richard Christian Matheson, adapted "Dance of the Dead" for Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).

Matthew Bradley said...

P.S. With all of the ensuing holiday madness, I forgot I had already plugged my book a month ago in a comment on your INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN post. Apologies for unintentionally double-dipping.