Saturday, March 10, 2012

Matheson is a master of inner dialog

Steel and Other Stories
Richard Matheson
TOR 2011

Review by Ann Wilkes

I thoroughly enjoyed Steel and Other Stories by Richard Matheson. His prose sings like poetry and his inner dialog has a grit and genuineness I seldom find. The stories aren't all speculative, but they are all excellent stories. Oddly, "Steel", though it has been produced as Twilight Zone episode and a movie (Real Steel with Hugh Jackman), was not my favorite. Of course, I'm not much for boxing, either, so I could be prejudiced against it for that reason. I think my favorite was the last one, "Window of Time", in which a man is able to browse through a day in his past on the street where he grew up. The inner dialog in that piece is thrilling. I felt as though I was walking those streets with that 82-year-old man and feeling the delight, the terror, the awe that he felt.

I also enjoyed "Grantville", a story set in the Wild West for the same reason. The inner dialog was addicting. In this story, a young man dressed in fine clothes clutching a mysterious bag is a fellow passenger of the protagonist's on a stagecoach. He reminds the man of his dead son and the man feels a sense of protectiveness towards him in spite of the fact the mysterious stranger, upon arriving in Grantville transforms himself into gunslinger intent on killing the fastest gun in town.

"The Splendid Source" is an interesting farce with a certain film noir appeal. It was made into a Family Guy episode apparently. An idle rich man goes on a quest to discover where all the dirty jokes originally come from. It's tongue-in-cheek cloak and dagger.

"A Visit to Santa Claus" is another story that has no speculative element, but has awesome inner dialog. A man arranges for his wife's death and must take his son to see Santa Claus to give the hit man his opportunity. His emotions swing wildly and he goes from panic, to hopefulness to fretting, to irritation, to regret - the whole gamut. The ending is a little predictable, but the journey made it not matter. And it was delicious all the same.

This excerpt from "The Traveler" provides an example of Matheson's vivid descriptions:
Silent snows descended like a white curtain as Professor Paul Jairus hurried under the dim archway and onto the bare campus of Fort College.

His rubber-protected shoes squished aside the thin slush as he walked. He raised the collar of his heavy overcoat almost to the brim of his pulled down fedora. The he drove his hands back into his coat pockets and clenched them into fists of chilled flesh.

Though the book is 319 pages, its size is small and its font large, making it a wonderfully quick read for an airport layover or a quiet evening.

1 comment:

Matthew Bradley said...

Although REAL STEEL was only loosely based on "Steel," the TWILIGHT ZONE adaptation under its original title--which Matheson scripted himself, and later cited as his favorite episode--was both faithful and effective. Lee Marvin's performance as ex-boxer "Steel" Kelly stood out in particular. Matheson recalled watching Marvin prepare for the role, making crowd noises to psyche himself up for his performance. And Rod Serling's closing narration, also written by Matheson, was one of his most moving. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (