Review Of Hunted
Past Reason, by Richard Matheson
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/30/05
I hate being right almost all the time. For example, after reading several dozen of the piss poor and predictable short stories of Richard Matheson, many of them literally the basis for Twilight Zone episodes, and the rest written as if they were, I became convinced that his masterwork, I Am Legend, was just one of those freak examples of a writer getting whispered to by the Muse, and not really having a lot to do with the actual work. Ok, I don’t believe in Muse- but freak occurrences? Yes. And I was right. O, where to begin with this ill-begotten monstrosity? Perhaps the beginning….
A couple of months ago my wife bought me several books from the mark down shelf at Barnes & Noble. One of those books was Hunted Past Reason. Alert #1: The book was written a half century after Matheson’s greatest work. The chances of any writer retaining their powers that long are slim. Alert #2: The clichéd title. Alert #3: The cheesy book cover painting. Alert #4: The dust jacket description of the book as a virtual cross between James Dickey’s Deliverance and William Faulkner’s Sanctuary. Admittedly, not the best pairing of ideas, and Matheson splits the difference. This is a bad, bad book. Not as good as the mediocre, but overwritten, Deliverance, but a notch or two above Faulkner’s horrid trash novel, if only because the middle of the novel contains some thought-provoking and interesting dialogue usually absent in contemporary fiction. However, that relative high point is preceded by about 70-80 pages of prefatory description and scene setting that could be done in ten pages tops, and then followed by a couple hundred pages of what can only be described as Last House On The Left level prose. For those of you who do not get the reference, Last House On The Left was horror maven Wes Craven’s first film, a campy cult classic about a Manson Family type group that kills two girls, and are then preyed upon by one of the girl’s parents, including an infamous scene where the mother bites off one of the male characters’ penis during fellatio. This is truly the level of this tale.
Here’s a summary: Bob Hansen is a financially successful short story writer, novelist, and screenwriter. His friend, Doug Crowley, is an unsuccessful B film actor who hates the world, his ex-wife, and his son who committed suicide- although not necessarily in that order. But, most of all he resents Bob, who he feels has not helped him get parts in the films he’s written. Here’s an example of their stations in life, and the rather banal set up to the characters:
‘Well,’ he said, forcing a smile. ‘My life isn't quite that perfect.’
‘Has your wife walked out on you?’ Doug demanded. ‘Has your daughter written you off completely? Has your career gone into the toilet? Has your son put a pistol in his mouth and blown his fucking brains out?’
‘Doug, take it easy, will you?’ Bob tried to calm him down. ‘I know you're having problems in your life, I know.’
‘Problems?’ Doug almost snarled. ‘Is that what they are? Fucking problems? Something I can solve with a fucking slide rule?!’
Note how poorly written the dialogue is- not so much what the characters say, but how Matheson has to guide the reader with ‘Doug demanded’, ‘Bob tried to calm him down’, and ‘Doug almost snarled’. This is because Matheson does not even trust his own dialogue to convey itself. Yet, despite having little in common, when Bob wants to research a new novel he’s writing about hiking he turns to Doug, an outdoorsman, to teach him all he knows, while Marian, Doug’s wife, drives ahead to their cabin in Northern California, to rendezvous with them in three days.
But, Doug is planning to torture, then kill Bob, whom he sees as a ‘pussy’ Hollywood liberal, and who is revealed as such, in the Shirley McLaine vein, for he cannot stand the least bit of pain, fears insects, talks to animals, and is an all-around tree hugger. Doug hates ‘spics and niggers’, admires Hitler, loves to hunt and torture animals, yet why the two men are friends seems only for purposes of giving the novel a reason to be. But, despite all that, Doug is a closet homosexual with a criminal past, who also lusts for Bob, and after their conversations reveal their differences, he attacks Bob, ties him up, then graphically sodomizes him. The descriptions of Doug’s throbbing glans as he rams his cock in Bob’s ass were not necessary, and an indication that Matheson was hoping shock would make up for lack of horror, no real tension, and absurd characterizations. Contrasting this to the fleet, pointed violence in I Am Legend, and one can see just how far Matheson has fallen. Of course, that’s not all- Doug plans a game that is only too common in horror and adventure tales. He’s not gonna outright kill Bob while he has him tied up. He’s gonna be a sport about it, and give him a head start. If Bob makes it to the cabin first he wins and lives. If Doug catches him he’ll shoot him with an arrow, carve up his body, pretend a bear got him, then feign upset when he reaches Marian, enact a plan of seduction as they both grieve, then marry her, so he can sodomize her regularly.
Bob declares he’s not afraid to die, but cannot think of letting Marian fall into his clutches (as if she were a typical helpless, brainless 1950s era Barbie doll!), so takes off. Several times Doug catches up to Bob, who fights back, and thinks he’s beaten Doug, just to- in classic B film fashion, see Doug rise from the dead to torment him again. Doug ends up murdering a confused hunter before he can help Bob, then they duke it out at a house, where Bob seemingly succeeds in killing Doug when he falls through a hole in the floor. Bob then seeks out the cabin where Marian is, but Doug has risen!- and beaten him to her. They try to escape, but are foiled. Doug overpowers Bob, and instead of killing him, he wants Bob to watch as he fucks then sodomizes Marian after commanding her to strip naked. Just as she’s about to sit in his lap, laden with erect member, she bashes him and exits the cabin. Doug turns to finish Bob, but Marian returns and together the two of them defeat Doug, then tie him naked to their car roof, as if a prize deer.
The problems are rife. Not only is the whole plot absurd, but Doug’s love/hate feelings toward Bob are those no homosexual would have, nor act upon in such a way- this is Freudian psychobabble made melodrama- and it is melodrama for the characters all act in the dumbest way possible. Bob could easily just backtrack his way to where they entered the woods- it’s California, not Burma! Doug could just easily kill Bob and no one would be the wiser, but he is a sadist, not smart. Bob has several opportunities to kill his tormentor, but refuses on ethical grounds, and does not finish him off when he finally could, and then in an absurd scene Bob, who fears mites, helps an injured mountain lion while knowing Doug is on his trail. In fact, given the plethora of beasts they run into, one might think this tale were set in pre-Colonial times- but it’s not. It is presumably set in 2002, the ‘now’ of the novel’s release. But what- no cell phone? Then there’s the clumsy profanity and graphic sex and violence, that reads more like a teenager’s idea of what ‘mature’ writing is, than what such really is.
In short, to repeat, as Matheson does throughout this lame book- I hate being right so often. Hunted Past Reason is unadulterated trash, not even worthy of being passable pornography. Some writers know when they’ve run out of juice, others don’t. Matheson’s the latter. Send him a message that it’s time he rested on his prior laurels. Do not buy nor read this garbage.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Yet Another Book Review website.]
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