A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson

a-stir-of-echoes-by-richard-matheson coverGenre: Paranormal
Publisher: Tor
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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OVERVIEW: The Gauntlet Press’s re-release of the classic Richard Matheson novel also includes Mr. Matheson’s original screenplay adaptation of the book.

DETAILS: In A Stir of Echoes we are presented with a perfectly ordinary man leading a perfectly ordinary life who is one day suddenly confronted with the extraordinary. The man’s name is Tom Wallace and one evening he and his wife, Anne, and his brother-in-law, Philip, who is in town for a couple of days, attend a get-together being held at Tom and Anne’s next door neighbor’s house. A few other couples from the neighborhood are present and it is in front of this captive audience that Philip hypnotizes Tom, a skeptic of the highest order who believes that there is no way he could ever be hypnotized. Of course, he is wrong, is, in fact, one of the best subjects Philip has ever worked with. Tom is told that while he was under he was “stretched out like a board between two chairs” and that Philip had “run a cigarette lighter flame along both of (his) exposed legs” and stuck pins into his arms.

Tom felt no pain and remembers none of this. Strange stuff, indeed, if not a little disquieting. And the events that occur after the hypnosis are all the more disquieting.

That night Tom can’t sleep. Thoughts tumble relentlessly through his head and he finds himself in a state of restlessness he has never before experienced. All of his senses seem acutely attuned to his surroundings. Does all of this have something to do with his earlier experience? Rising from bed, he walks through the dark house, gets a drink of water, makes his way to the living room and sits in an easy chair trying to collect his thoughts, to understand what is happening to him. And that’s when he sees her, a strange woman in the room with him, a woman he can see right through. A ghost. If that’s not bad enough Tom goes on to discover that he now has awareness of events – – like his mother-in-law’s sudden illness – – that he could not possibly have any knowledge of and it seems that he now can, to some extent, look into the minds of his friends and neighbors. Of course, what he sees there is usually quite unexpected and unpleasant leading to some of the book’s more powerful scenes. Just what in the world is happening to him?

A Stir of Echoes is Richard Matheson’s clinical look at psychic phenomenon as he tries on various occasions throughout the book to try and explain many of the events scientifically. Tom even visits a doctor at one point who believes what Tom is telling him when he relates his experiences and offers his expert opinion on what it is that is happening. This is not just a simple horror novel in which a man is cursed with strange powers and all sorts of awful things happen as a result. One would be rather hard pressed to label this book a horror novel at all. Sure it is dark in places and has its share of scares but this story is ultimately about the explanation of these seemingly paranormal occurrences and psychic phenomena in general.

This is not unique to this Matheson book, is in fact a similar tact taken in some of his other classics such as Hell House and I Am Legend, these stories turning clinical eyes on the haunted house and vampire myths respectively. For sheer edge-of-your-seat better-leave-the-lights-on readability A Stir of Echoes is not quite in the league of these other two books but is still very well written and a lot of fun to read and is highly recommended for any fan of dark fiction and the supernatural. Also, Mr. Matheson’s original screenplay (which has been included in this edition) makes for interesting reading as one can then compare/contrast novel, script, and the movie and experience three different interpretations of the same story.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s a Richard Matheson book! Of course it’s worth reading! Buy it, put it on the bookshelf between your Poe/Lovecraft section and your King/Barker section. Then go scarf up any other Richard Matheson titles you can get your hands on. You won’t be disappointed.

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