Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Box: Uncanny Stories" by Richard Matheson

Matheson is one of the granddaddies of horror, having written a little book called "I Am Legend" that was made into no less than three movies that I know of. He's written numerous books, screenplays, and short stories, and is still with us at the wonderful age of 84. I saw this in our collection and thought it would be worth picking up, plus I remembered that they'd just put out the movie "The Box" not too long ago (not to very good reviews, if memory serves me correctly).

Well, having read "Button, Button", I gotta say I'm not surprised the movie tanked. This is not one of Matheson's best: incredibly short and I saw the "shock" ending coming a mile away. Then again, it was first published back in 1970, and perhaps it was shocking at the time. But there have been too many other similar stories since then for it to hold up.

There were several stories that I read but didn't really feel were all that wonderful. "Girl of my Dreams" had a real nasty husband taking advantage of his wife's visions of the future; the slimeball gets his just desserts."Dying Room Only" was a strange story about a couple stopping at a diner in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of that movie with Kurt Russell where his wife is kidnapped (think it was called "Breakdown" or something like that...); the ending of "Dying Room" was anticlimatic at best. "A Flourish of Strumpets" asks what would you do if the hookers started coming directly to your door? Gives new meaning to an interesting proposition, I think. "Pattern for Survival" was just odd, and if I read it correctly, there was only one character in the whole thing. I think....

The story I liked the least was probably "The Jazz Machine". It's written in verse form, perhaps trying to catch the feel of the music. In any case, a black musician is approached by a white man (keep in mind this is back in the 40s or 50s); the white man tells him he has a machine that can translate the black man's music into words so that the white man can better understand it. The black man goes along with the idea, until he realizes that the machine actually works - then he destroys it, saying that the "we" need to keep something for ourselves. Obviously supposed to be a commentary on race relations, but still not a story I got into.
I think the best story is also the longest. "Mute" is about a boy who was part of an experiment by four couples trying to raise/nurture their children's skills at telepathy. Paal, the boy, lives in the USA and when he's seven, his parents die horribly in a fire. He's found wandering in the woods with nary a scratch on him and appears to be mute, whether by shock or some medical problem, they don't know. He's taken in by the sheriff and his wife (their own boy drowned in a lake a few years earlier), and they try to figure out why he can't/won't talk. They also finally enroll him in school, something that traumatizes him. Then one of the other parents shows up searching for the reason they haven't heard from the boy's parents in over two years.... A very good story, good character development, etc. This was definitely the jewel of the works.

Overall, I still like Matheson, but boy - the short stories really do show their age.

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