The Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson
The Shrinking Man Cover

The Shrinking Man


The Shrinking Man

In the 50ies, the rage in movies was the monster movie. Some radioactive something-or-other would happen, with mutants and monsters galore being the result. This book falls well within that camp. An ordinary man exposed to a drifting cloud of something-or-other and now he is shrinking, slowly shrinking away. Everything else about him normal, and working. He's just shrinking.

This is the story of his descent. His painful decent, told with an eye towards pain. Plenty of physical bumps and bruises along the way. And an equal number of mental traumas as well.

I can't say that I cared for most of the novel. The lead, Scott, was not terribly likable or sympathetic. He spent much of the time cursing this fate and driving away from himself those who care for him the most. Perhaps this is a comment on social conventions of the times and how they are completely inadequate for handling something so bizarre. Society fails him and Scott's suffering is only made worse by the gawkers, the bullies, and the perverts. He does find a night of solace in another women's bed, a little person in a side show, but that comes with the price of alienation from his wife.

There is a point where he is emotionally, physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually separated from everything. He is back in the survival mode of the jungle. Food, water, kill his enemy (the spider).

Perhaps that was the point, to push Scott hard enough so the epiphany near the end would seem somehow greater, more earthshaking to him and to the readership of the time.

Scott's hard won insights seem to me to be closer to, "yeah, about time you came around", than anything earthshaking. But then, that comes from the comfort of normal size and 60 plus years of social evolution. It's far easier to wonder what's up with his slowness from the ease of a comfy chair.

If you want a novel which really seems to give a window on the social mechanisms of those times, to compare how different they are now, this is a good place to start. If you want an adventure novel, the realist approach to Scott's problems is a must. If you want something with characters one can relate to, or like, no not so much.