stir of echoes – richard matheson
this one i didn’t read because of the film that’s based upon it, although i did see the film. i actually can’t remember too much about it, except that i pretty much enjoyed it, and that it had kevin bacon in it. i remember the atmosphere, though, or at least a kind of image of it – lots of naked light bulbs, casting shadows.
anyway, i liked i am leg-end, so i thought I’d give this a try. it was quite fun, although unexpectedly weird. the premise, if you haven’t heard of it, is that at a party this guy gets hypnotised, which awakens latent psychic abilities. cue murder mystery, psychic turmoil &etc.
the weird: man, the people are weird in this! it’s set in the 50s and the characters are these cardboard cutouts from the period. also, no-one’s remotely normal or has any shades of grey – everyone’s either thorougly good or bad. the main character, tom, has two couples that live nearby, and one couple has a domineering wife and a subservient husband, and the other a domineering husband and a subservient wife.
i guess that isn’t too weird, i just haven’t read such simplistic characters in some time. what’s also weird is matheson’s attitude to sex. both the dominant neighbours aren’t faithful to their partners, and matheson is incredibly prudish about this. the female neighbour tries to seduce the main character repeatedly and through his psychic awareness he sees inside her mind and is absolutely repulsed by her. he’s also repulsed by the sexual fantasies of a work colleague. now, of course, both the neighbour and the work colleague could be having really gross and repulsive fantasies, but how likely is that…? the male neighbour;s unfaithfulness is also depicted as very brazen, and he’s shown as some caveman.
so, that was kind of weird, and put me off a bit. but there was some good stuff here! the psychic element is dealt with really well. matheson superbly captures how ineffable and inexplicable psychic powers can be. and also how uncontrollable. and scary. usually these powers are depicted as this great gift, or really cool. obviously there’s sometimes some anguish, but the coolness and power outweighs it, and sometimes it’s just all cool and power! here it’s all anguish and confusion, and that’s really interesting.
i also like how realistically matheson has his protagonist learn about his powers, how slowly he works things out and the false conclusions he comes to. it was all very believable and made me think twice about wanting to have these kinds of powers!
the psychic thing naturally acts as a fantastic plot device for discovering and solving a mystery. it’s an angle that adds a freshness to the process of unravelling a mystery – ‘cause that what the novel boils down to, a good old mystery thriller.
i think if you’re interested in that psychic angle and you don’t mind cardboard characters too much then you’ll enjoy this. the protagonist and his wife are at least more normal and complex! also, isn’t the cover just hilarious. i wonder how old-school the story would’ve felt had i read this with a different cover? what’s also funny is how the cover misrepresents the novel – that woman never appears topless, in fact, there’s a great irony about her being topless which i’d love to share with anyone once they’ve read this…