Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Book Review: "I Am Legend" (A+!)

I can sum up this review in one sentence: Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," is easily one of the best vampire novels ever written.

It's complex, intense, disturbing and it made me want to sit down and write a novel about vampires. Or zombies. Or anything remotely terrifying.

"Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth ... but he is not alone."

Now, after reading just that ONE sentence, how can you not want to sit down and tear into this book? I read it in one sitting. The book is impeccably written, the character of Neville is so well-drawn and thought out. I did not want the story to end. It was just too fucking good. How can you not love a novel with something like this ending a chapter:

"On the phonograph, music played, quiet and unhurried.
Outside, the vampires waited." (117)

One of the best facets of the novel is that Matheson draws on the insanity that comes with solitude. Way back in the day, certain prisons used to do solitary confinement 24/7 as a way to punish criminals. Why did they stop it? Because the criminals couldn't take it and would kill themselves and/or go completely crazy. Robert Neville manages to keep a hold on some sanity through his tasks during the day, but at night often falls prey to the temptations of liquor. He's shown as fallible, despite being able to fight off hordes of vampires, and isn't painted as some sort of reluctant superhero. He isn't happy to be alive, he simply exists. He finds himself battling lust just as furiously as he battles the vampires. The novel is centered around vampirism, yes, but is so much more than that. It's about the fragility of humans, how we adapt to extreme situations, and, in the end, how one man becomes a legend.

Another thing I loved about the book was that it doesn't conform to existing models of vampires (or what existed in 1954, when it was originally written). It takes a much different route, forces the reader to think about what is most terrifying to human beings. In my opinion, humans are mostly afraid of our capability of darkness, for our ability to change into something we don't recognize. Vampires are an extreme representation of that and that's exactly why they are so fucking scary.

I could go on about this book for days. The only bad thing about the book is that it seems short. At around 150 pages, it just does not seem like enough, although it is perfectly paced. So my wanting it to be longer is really just a desire for more, rather than anything Matheson actually does wrong. I definitely recommend it, even to those who aren't necessarily fans of vampires or interested in vampire lore.

Note: If the recent movie remake had been done with proper respect to the novel and with an R rating, it probably would have been one of the best horror films of the year.

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