Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson (occult horror)

In memory of author Richard Matheson, I recommend this, one of my favorite books of his. This is another terrific thriller from Richard Matheson. When the film version of A Stir of Echoes came out years ago, it was instantly dismissed as a rip-off of The Sixth Sense — a difficult feat considering that the novel that was the source of the film was written over forty years prior.

As a fan of the film (it is highly underrated and will definitely provide entertainment for fans of the genre) and of Matheson's work, I felt I owed it to myself to check out the original. (For some reason, a definite article is good enough for The Sixth Sense, but an indefinite article not good enough for Stir of Echoes. I'm sure someone was paid well for making that decision.)

A Stir of Echoes by Richard MathesonWhen Tom Wallace is hypnotized at a party by his brother-in-law, he turns out to be a surprisingly good subject. Afterward, he is told how malleable he was, and a good laugh is had at his expense when he unwittingly performs a post-hypnotic suggestion.

But then things aren't the same for Tom: he begins having dreams that a woman in black is in his house, and then realizes that he is able to read people's minds. This comes in handy on more than one occasion, but generally appears to be a nuisance, especially to Tom's wife, Anne, who wants him to see a doctor.

Given what I had read of Matheson's, I wasn't surprised by the level of quality presented in the story. What did surprise me, however, was that A Stir of Echoes, although first published in 1958, is not at all dated; it could have just as easily been written today, Matheson's story and characters are so "modern" and timeless. This is particularly true given the modern atmosphere of being more accepting to the idea of spirits "crossing over" from another plane.

As the story progresses, the tension ratchets higher and higher. Matheson hardly lets up, steadily adding more complications to the plot until the surprise revelation. This is one of the reasons that I like Matheson's work so much: the knowledge that I am always in for a ride.

(Fans of the movie please note: the plot of A Stir of Echoes differs from the film in many details. The base story is, of course, the same, but the identities of the participants — the alleged ghost, the alleged killer — are different, which allows for a new experience in reading a book you think you're already familiar with.)


Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for writing so well about one of Matheson's finest novels. I was a senior in high school and read it the same summer when Psycho appeared. Hard to say which one scared me the most. You're right about the film too. Fine work and all the more interesting (to me anyway) because they kept the working class milieu of the novel. I guess it got buried because The Sixth Sense came out at the same time. I laughed out loud about accusing Matheson of ripping off Sixth Sense.

David T. Wilbanks said...

One of my favorites. Thanks, Craig.

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks, gentlemen. I'm still reeling from the news.

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