My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My four star rating is an average of my rating for the two novellas included in this audio collection.
Duel by Richard Matheson — Five Stars
One of the good things about the Will Smith version of “I Am Legend” hitting the big-screen is that it brought a lot of harder to find work of Richard Matheson back into print, introducing a new generation of fans to him. “Legend” is one of his strongest offerings, but it seems the man could really do no wrong and he was an absolute master of the short story and novella.
That mastery shows with “Duel.” The story is a simple one–a man driving on a California highway one hot summer afternoon enters into a game of chicken when a huge semi. The situation begins innocently enough with our hero, Mann, passing the truck and slowly devolves into a game of wills and utter paranoia as the truck and its driver seem to have it in for Mann. The slow descent into obsession is marvelously played out over the course of the story and watching Mann’s increasing desperation to defeat the truck is a fascinating, compelling and scary journey. If you’ve ever been tailgated by a semi on a two-lane road, you’ll understand how easy it is to slip into the madness that grips and eventually consumes Mann.
Taut, driven and compelling, the story is an example of Matheson at his finest. It shows his skill of taking ordinary people and putting them into extraordinary situations of high tension in order to observe how they react–both positively and negatively. Mann is self-aware enough, at times, to realize just how crazy his current situation is even though at others he’s so consumed by the need to out run the truck or to beat it that he’s blinded to the possible implications. It’s a great story and wonderfully brought to life in this audio release.
“Throttle” by Stephen King and Joe Hill — Three Stars
Stephen King has stated (in fact, it’s a blurb on the cover of most reissues of Matheson’s books) that Matheson is one of the writers who influenced him the most. That’s apparent in a large majority of King’s writings, though it’s not necessarily on as great a display here in “Throttle.” Written with his son, Joe Hill, the story is meant as an homage to Matheson and “Duel” and while it has its moments, it pales by comparison.
A group of bikers, fleeing a bad investment in a meth lab and murder, encounter a mysterious semi that takes on supernatural like proportions in a road game of cat and mouse. The story has potential and maybe if I’d heard it before I listened to “Duel” I would have liked it more. Instead, the story is a more violent version that has too many irons in the fire to be truly satisfying.