Monday, January 16, 2012

"He looked up with the accredited expression for...

...the Asking of Painful Questions."  (The Funeral by Richard Matheson)

     After reading "I am Legend," I expected this short story to deal with the monstrous case of the vampire again, and it didn't disappoint. I didn't find this a surprising read, but it was highly entertaining. What made the piece most enjoyable was Matheson's extraordinary use of language and the way he moved from a sedate and serious situation to one of almost perposterous chaos. One moment, there's a barely pulsatile funeral master ready to guide a bereaved customer into the forest of grief and out again with lighter pockets, and in another moment his quarry disappears out a window flapping his wings. This story rapidly stepped across the pictorial line of a believable (albeit macabre) every day situation and leaped a dark chasm to embrace the fantastical and chaotic mosaic of the undead.

     Yes, I'm a sap for Matheson I suppose. Some of his language is overly flowery and some people might consider it borderline purple prose...but his combination of words is set on the page so masterfully that I can't help but read his work over and over again. I've never read any other piece of prose that described a man's eyes as 'liver-colored,' (and having done autopsy, I know what a fresh human one looks like) and I adored the pet names Morton Silkline used for his traditional bereaved-one's process. The "Grieved One's Chair" and "The Asking of Painful Questions" were priceless phrases that gave me a huge amount of insight into Silkline's character and day-to-day life.

     I did wonder at the end if Morton might make it to the realm of the undead himself, since he was considered (potentially) tasty...but then I was pleased and thoroughly enjoyed the ending. Successful businesses are tough because they demand a lot of the business-person. The greater the pay, the greater the difficulty (in one way or another). Whether it be fame and the loss of freedom that comes with it, or serving a clientele that is demanding and that others find less is business and each coin exacts a toll in...all circumstances. 

     Live long and prosper.



  1. Cin, I think Matheson’s language hearkens from an earlier era. I personally like that style of writing and always have. I love the expert use of adverbs and description; not only in Matheson, but also in Poe, Lovecraft, and the like. I also believe that the ‘preposterous chaos’ that you describe was put into the scene for a reason; I think it was put there to put the reader at ease and show monsters in a familiar setting. If he showed them at a gathering that was quickly going downhill, readers could relate their own get-togethers to that one and begin to empathize with the situation. All in all I think it was a well written tale, and I believe your insights of it to be great. Keep up the good work.

  2. I tend to like this style of language and writing, too. Although there is a fine line between an exquisite amount and too much, I think Matheson has it right on the nose here. Poe and Lovecraft, however close to my heart they might be, tend to cross that line and into too much description for my taste. I tend to trudge through it, though, because they know how to make it all worth it in the end. I'd even lump M.R. James in with the style, but I think I tend to prefer his writing more because he keeps it on the line like Matheson: a healthy amount of description but not overboard. I think this style is being phased out in light of more action-driven narrative, but being able to handle description well gives a writer the tools needed to build scene and tension, which a horror writer flounders without.

  3. I agree with R.D. and Cody. I also really enjoy this language. My favorite writer is Charles Dickens. I was wondering if the move toward more action driven prose has anything to do with the video games, television and movies dominating people's lives. I have noticed a trend toward instant gratification, as well. When Dickens and Poe were writing there was less competition for attention. Now books compete with internet, movies and video games. This must have an effect on the publishing world. As a writer, it's challenging for me to weave effective description into the action. I admire Matheson's blend in this story, though. I think he achieves a nice balance, so I know it can be done which gives me hope.

  4. Yes! The tone of this piece is enhanced by Matheson's use of different language as the story progresses. It's always funny to see your own writing influences at work in the greats. I love to use "formal" naming even when the events/people/places given the names don't require one. Thanks for your thoughts.