Saturday, January 14, 2012

"I'll kill every mother’s son of you...

...before I’ll give in!" 

(I am Legend. Richard Mathson, 1954)

 (Artwork obtained from DeviantArt: Infected 05)


    No one weaves a story like Mathson. His word choice, the chilling phrases he uses to create his setting...his novels are those I crave to read. Works of prose like his are the reason I read until 3AM knowing I have to get up at 5AM for work.

    Like those lusty naked vampires in Chapter 3, I was ready to drink his blood as I read through the pages. The story was completely compelling, but not just the was the language used to tell the story. Sure, I'd seen the movie. I'd never read the novel. I found the written work much more enjoyable (and completely different), and I felt myself grab on to the pace of the story during the early fight scenes, my eyes rapidly scanning the lines while my own pulse quickened with anxiety and anticipation for Robert Neville. I was afraid for his life, despite the fact he was immune to the vampire bite.

"The wound had healed cleanly. But then, he hadn’t been overly concerned about that. Time had more than proved to him that he was immune to their infection." (I Am Legend, Richard Matheson)

 The following are a couple of my favorite quotes in chapter 3 that I think highlighted the very premise of the book:

 "The strength of the vampire is that no one will believe in him.”
(I Am Legend, p. 28, Richard Matheson)

"And before science had caught up with the legend, the legend had swallowed science and everything.
(I Am Legend, p. 29, Richard Matheson)


    While reading I feel compelled to say, I didn't take the main character as a 'whiskey sour' kinda guy. I thought whiskey straight up or scotch or rum at first. Nothing so...complicated. Later Matheson just describes Robert as drinking 'whiskey', but the initial whiskey sour bothered a guy would have all of the ingredients to make one (and maybe he did) or take the time. And what KIND of whiskey was Neville  drinking?  I would like to have known. I, perhaps, would have thought of Matheson, and dear old Richard every time I gulped a namesake shot. I guess that flagrantly shows my mindset when I read.

    What I truly enjoyed about the book was the language Matheson used, his brilliant scene setting and his own unique writing style. The story line was fantastic, the scientific reasoning behind the vampire plague plausible, and many of the little scientific details Matheson wove into the story were fun to read from a medical point of view. I'm a forensic nurse and nurse practitioner/midwife by trade.

     Minor distractors in the prose that were irritating... those things we are taught in writing NOT to do this day and age. Phrases like writing out 'he thought', and no italics on the thought, and some overuse of some adverbs bugged me. Other than that, I thought the work was excellent.

     Story items that bothered me: on page 86 (Kindle edition) Richard discovers (after painstakingly teaching himself medicine and how to use a microscope) that the vampires are created due to an infection ('vampiris' he calls the bacteria) which makes me wonder if it were that simple all along, then why wasn't it discovered by scientists sooner? He also mentions setting 'milk' out for the dog, which I found incredible at first, after 8-11 months of the plague. But then I rationalized as I read. Perhaps he had 'dried' milk and had to reconstitute it. Maybe he had a freezer large enough to freeze some milk. Perhaps some of the milk he drank was canned. I felt better after musing. Then I was suspicious as I wondered how Richard still had drinkable running water, and later I cursed Matheson for killing the dog in chapter thirteen. Cruel, cruel writer!

     An inconsistency bothered me in chapter eighteen, when Richard found Ruth, and later she supposedly took a bath. If her 'tan' was makeup, did she somehow bring some makeup with her? How did she still have makeup on her legs after the bath?

     And so it went, my emotional and clinical reading roller-coaster, until the last. I loved the science that Matheson/Richard took time to learn. I loved reading about the mutation of the vampire race. And I cried at Richard's final realization that he was the last of his kind as he took the pills that helped end his life. And at 1:49AM on January 14th, I finished reading "I Am Legend." The early hour a testimony to how riveting the story was in my brain that I couldn't stop reading; my wet cheeks a mental and physical response to the realization that while all things change...
...compassion is timeless.


(I Am Legend From DeViant Art: by patrickbrown)


  1. I too had some issues with his writing, as well as content. I found his explanation of the bacteria to be boring and ended up skimming through most of that section. However, the ending all but made up for it. I love the fact that Matheson turns the story around and paints Neville as the monster. Brilliant work really, and a fact that I think the movie missed almost entirely. Overall though, I think this story was excellent and that anyone who enjoys vampire stories, or post-apocalyptic stories would get a kick out of it.

  2. I kind of-sort of liked the most recent film version until I read this book. Now I hate it. The things about Matheson's writing that drove me insane in Hell House weren't nearly as pronounced when he wrote I Am Legend, and though I made mental notes about them as I read, I was too caught up in the story to give them much more thought--and somehow I didn't even catch that part about Ruth in the bath! The ending was brilliant (again, so unlike Hell House). One of the best endings I've ever read. It's obvious why this book has had such a huge influence on writers over the years.

  3. Insightful post! I have difficultly catching inconsistencies within a story - the tendency is more to just read through and enjoy the ride - but you make some very good points. The make-up...admittedly, Neville never sees her outside after that bath, and his house is rather devoid of natural lighting with the boarded-up windows. That might explain why he didn't notice, but really, I'm grasping at straws. The milk, though, is another matter. There should have been some mention of prepping canned or powdered milk, because there's no possible way he would have had it fresh. And the drinkable water - like the milk, Matheson could have used a throwaway line, about boiling perhaps, and made it all the more realistic. Good catches!

  4. Seconded on the inconsistencies (like the milk, and you're right! the bath!) missing my notice. Of course, I wasn't nearly as enchanted with the story as you seem to be. Which I admire in you. I hate it when something doesn't grab me when I know it held others in that lovely pleasure zone of reading. For me, I was bored. Bored with his shopping, bored with his experiments and the bacteria. The story really picked up for me when Ruth entered the picture. From there on out I think I felt the magic that some others have mentioned, and I could have done with a lot more of that.


  5. I also missed the inconsistencies, especially the make-up and the bath. I also missed the milk one. However, neither my husband nor I drink milk, so I am letting that one go. I agree with you that Matheson weaved an amazing story. Although, I thought it started out slow. Until the dog showed up, I had difficulty paying attention. (I also sobbed when he died). It's harder for me to catch errors like punctuation and inconsistencies if the story didn't hook me. I am easily distracted. So I applaud Matheson on his ability to catch my attention in Part Two and maintain it until the end. The twisted end rocked. I was actually sad that it was over. That doesn't happen too often.

  6. You all have had some wonderful responses to my post. Thank you so much for your comments! I do read for fun, but this program has forever changed 'how' I read for fun. My critical eye is always roaming and thinking as I go. I backtrack a lot to see if I missed something along the way when it comes to things I don't understand. Everyone's responses were much appreciated!


    1. This is why I am SO grateful you're my critique partner (and one of the many reasons I'll lose my mind when the semester's over)! You have an incredibly detailed mind when it comes to reading - an author's lapses in description, logic, situation, continuity - the fine minutiae that many others often miss - almost always get caught during your telescopic read. Loved this post!

    2. Aww. (Blush...) Wait. "Almost always..?" Was that a test? ;)

  7. While I like your entire post, one point early on really leapt out at me as something that would have read much better: if Matheson had named the brand of whiskey, rather than simply referring to it as 'whiskey.' Jack Daniels or Jameson or whatever would have given Neville a stronger identity, even from something as simple as what brand of whiskey he drank. Small details like that can really bring a character to life.