Sunday, December 03, 2006

Shock Waves

One of my favorite collections of horror short stories or horror and suspense stories is Richard Matheson's Shock Waves.
I don't know that it contains his best tales for there are many including a number of stories that became Twilight Zones.

But it's a book that got me through a whole lot o' boredom once, so I hold it in high regard.

It was near Christmas one day in the '90s and I was called for jury duty. I'd bought the Matheson book used fairly recently so I tucked in my jacket when I left home that morning.

And while I sat through the preliminary selection process and voir dire, I read Matheson stories - "A Visit to Santa Claus," "Finger Prints" and a host of others.

One that I remember vividly still is "A Drink of Water." It's not a horror story exactly, but it at least is a tale of desperation.
It's about a guy who's been to a movie one hot August night, had some popcorn and upon arriving home decides he needs a drink of water since the popcorn was salty.

Sounds simple, but when he reaches his apartment he finds the water's been shut off due to one problem or another.

He's got no water in the fridge, and every avenue he pursues fails him for the next six or seven pages. I was right along with him in that tale, desperate in my own way, trapped in one of those processes from which there's no escape.

You just have to endure and hope you come out the other side.

A good book full of cool stories can make the trip more bearable.

Did the story's hero ever get a drink? Well, I suggest you look up Shock Lines. It's well worth a read.


Anonymous said...

The book I bought by Matheson, which contained I Am Legend, also has some of his short stories, and many of them are really good. I've been reading them for the past few days. One is a story called "Prey," about an evil African Fetish doll. It's a lot better than the show based on it. I bet Matheson is near the top of writers who have had their stories turned into movie and TV scripts.

Anonymous said...

What has always impressed me about Matheson is his ability to write cleanly. You will never find him spending a lot of time on setting. He uses three or four brush strokes, just what is necessary, and sets things in motion.

His stuff doesn't feel like it has depth. It flies along, tapping at a predictable rhythm, but then when you stop and look at what he has done with dialogue and his minimalist approach, you realize there is a sudden depth there.

Have you ever read "Your's Truly, Jack the Ripper"?

gugon said...

I discovered Matheson in a high school English class with the story Born of Man and Woman - which just blew me away. I started looking for his short story collections in used bookstores and was astonished at how many of his stories I was familiar with - but just didn't who wrote them. Like Duel and Prey and The Shrinking Man and Omega Man (I Am Legend) and all those Twilight Zones. The list goes on and on.

As mentioned above, his writing style is very sparse, and I don't suppose he could be called a great wordsmith. But that's almost beside the point. Matheson was a writer who positively bristled with ideas - he had more great ideas than any ten average writers put together. And I always got the impression that he specialized in the short story format simply because he had too many thoughts to get out.

Third From the Sun, Shock! and Shock II are also great collections. There's one story in particular called "Crickets" that still gives me chills whenever I think about it.

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