Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson
Completed 12/13/2018, Reviewed 12/15/2018
3 stars

This is the second book by Matheson I’ve read, and I have to say that his prose is the star of his books.  He writes gorgeously, making for easy, delightful reading of very dark concepts.  That being said, I didn’t care much for this book.  I found the main character very unlikeable.  But the concept is great and the execution remarkable. 

The main character is Scott Carey.  After being exposed to a radioactive mist with pesticides in it, he begins to shrink a seventh of an inch a day.  In the process, he becomes disaffected towards his wife and daughter, and becomes more and more bitter at his plight.  The story follows him in his last week and inch of life, trapped in the basement of his house, in a constant battle with a black widow spider and hunting for food and water.  The story of his shrinking from a grown man to this tiny state is told in a series of flashbacks. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I didn’t like the main character.  His increasing bitterness came off as whiny and narcissistic.  I don’t begrudge someone being bitter, but to read it for almost a whole book, and a short book at that, was simply painful.  Fortunately, the flashbacks became more and more creative and interesting as he shrank.  Perhaps the most memorable scene is when he convinces his wife to let him sleep with a little person billed as Mrs. Tom Thumb at the sideshow of a carnival they attend. 

While reading this book, I wondered if this was an allegory for the de-masculinization of the American male in the 1950s, or at least men feeling less than after the machismo of the Second World War, the growth of desk jobs in the American workplace, and the feeling of powerlessness in the Cold War.  I might be reading too much into this, but it seems to be really visible in the constant battle with the black widow spider as he continues to shrink.   

I give this book three stars out of five.  It’s really well written, but the constant whining and bitterness was a sour note for me.  Granted, he’s facing extraordinary circumstances and has a metanoia at the end, but it just made it hard to read, despite the elegant prose. 

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