Richard Christian Matheson
Gauntlet Publications / 532 pages / May 2000
Almost every author writes short stories, and many write superb stories. In terms of the short-shorts, there is one man whose work defines the category. Just ask Jack Ketchum, F. Paul Wilson, Poppy Z. Brite, or Stephen King — a few of the luminaries who contribute insightful and engaging commentary on the stories and the author. No one matches Richard Christian Matheson in the art of the truly short story.
Maybe it’s the brutal economy with which he chooses and uses words, as if they cost thousands apiece. Throughout this collection, there is not an unnecessary word to be found. Pick the stories apart. You won’t find a better way to say what Matheson has already said. And you won’t find a better spokesman for him than Dystopia.
Are you hooked on Matheson’s horror stories, perhaps with an erotic element? If you go with the deluxe edition (breathtakingly illustrated by Harry O. Morris), you will get a special view into the jaw-dropping “Arousal.” A short film of the story on videotape is included (as is an audio CD with Matheson reading six of the short stories, read by the author and the group The Existers performing some dark, disturbing music that suits the collection perfectly.) Take my advice and read the story before you watch the video; it will provide a background that is glossed over in the film.
One of the most troubling selections in Dystopia is the dark realism of “Red.” Aren’t the most frightening tales ones that are all too possible? “Red” starts off with a icy dread that increases with each carefully chosen word. The climax is as chilling as it is inevitable — not consciously inevitable, but far back in the depths of the subconscious. It is even more chilling when heard in Matheson’s deep, reassuring voice on the CD. If you ever forget this story, you’re one of the very few who do.
Honestly, every piece in this collection is a masterpiece of short, stunning storytelling. Trying to choose a favourite is next to impossible — but not impossible. After you’ve read the creepy, the shocking, the terrifying, there is one story I would like you to pay particular attention to: “Who’s You In America.”
If you are skipping around through the book, read several stories before you read this extraordinary short. There is always an amazing insight into the human mind and heart in Matheson’s work; this story allows you to see the open, vulnerable heart of the author more clearly. The knowledge of the grief, loneliness, and incompleteness in all of us is wrapped up in this exquisite piece.
Read it, see the sad truth in it, and wonder how Matheson knows you so well. Perhaps I am the only one who wept while reading “Who’s You In America,” but I’ll bet there are many more who felt the same connection, however they reacted. How did he know? And how brave he is to acknowledge the yearning. If I had never read another word by Matheson, this one story would make me a fan for life and would make me feel a kinship, though we may never meet.
Make a gift to yourself of this unparalleled collection. It is Matheson’s gift to us.