Friday, April 07, 2006

More Matheson Thoughts

I found Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet and Other Stories at my excellent public library. The titular story is the basis for The Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner. Well if you like the show, read the book. Your heartbeat stays erratic the whole time. I love the detail in which Matheson describes the harrowing experience the protagonist has. He knows the gremlin is there but the darn thing disappears when he tries to point him out. The flight crew gets more and more convinced that the protagonist is off his rocker. But he knows he's sane. He is frightened out of his wits, but knowing that he's the only hope for the plane. The reluctant hero comes up with a plan to save the plane because the gremlin is steadily and I must add gleefully, tearing it apart. The climax is short, quick, wonderfully executed. You heave a sigh of relief when the story ends. This volume has other classic stories. Another truly affecting story is Slaughter House. Two very close brothers buy and lovingly restore a Victorian house which is possessed by a spirit with nefarious intent. The spirit slowly drives a wedge between brothers and ends up causing a tragic end for one of the brothers. As usual you can see Matheson's skill in writing. He takes his time to build things up to an exquistive level of terror. You feel the pain of the older brother as he fights to save his sibling. I felt it more intensely because I am very close to my sister and I can imagine how much anguish it was causing the protagonist to watch his brother turn into a stranger. For me the end was satisfying although tragic. I won't give it away. But suffice it to say you walk away with a poignant feeling that will stay with you for days. Another memorable tale is about a young boy who so intensely identifies with the tale of Dracula by Bram Stoker that his life goes in an interesting direction. This story leaves you with almost an upset stomach. As I read more and more horror, I realize how conventional I am. I think this is the power of horror, that it can drive home how settled we are into our normal, nice worlds blithely unaware of how ugly the other reality is. Matheson definitely seems to understand this. He uses the tools available to him to craft this into his stories. It could be circumstances that are horrible. It could be the protagonist that is the real horror, or it could be the fate of the protagonist. And even in the case of one story where a guy murders his wife and then is subsequently haunted by her ghost, you still feel shocked at the comeuppance his wife's spirit delivers to him. In some of the stories you find yourself thinking, that's not fair. And maybe that's the real kind of horror that we face everyday, that bad things happen to the normal, everyday person, the not especially good or bad, person. I think that Matheson really impresses me in his skill with the short story because writing a short story is such an art. I haven't read anything from him longer than a novella, but I will definitely look forward to reading a full length novel by him. However, I know I'll have to gird my loins because it will be a very bumpy, if satisfying ride.


At 2:25 PM, Blogger eddysmith1516356570 said...

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