This is another terrific thriller from Richard Matheson. When the film version came out a few years ago, it was instantly dismissed as a rip-off of The Sixth Sense -- a difficult feat considering that the novel that was the source of the film was written over forty years prior. As a fan of the film (it is highly underrated and will definitely provide entertainment for fans of the genre), and of Richard Matheson's work, I felt I owed it to myself to check out the original: A Stir of Echoes (What, a definite article is good enough for The Sixth Sense, but not for Stir of Echoes? I'll never understand Hollywood).
When Tom Wallace is hypnotized at a party by his brother-in-law, he turns out to be a surprisingly good subject. Afterwards, he is told how malleable he was, and a good laugh is had at his expense when he unwittingly performs a post-hypnotic suggestion. But afterwards things aren't the same for Tom: he begins having dreams that a woman in black is in his house, and then realizes that he is able to read people's minds. This comes in handy on more than one occasion, but generally appears to be a nuisance, especially to Tom's wife, Anne, who wants him to see a doctor.
Given what I have read of Matheson, I wasn't surprised by the level of quality presented in the story. What did surprise me, however, was that A Stir of Echoes, although first published in 1958, is not at all dated; it could have just as easily been written today, Matheson's story and characters are so "modern" and timeless. This is particularly true given the modern atmosphere of being more accepting to the idea of spirits "crossing over" from another plane.
As the story progresses, the tension ratchets higher and higher. Matheson hardly lets up, steadily adding more complications to the plot until the surprise revelation. This is one of the reasons that I like Matheson's work so much: the knowledge that I am always in for a ride.
(Fans of the movie please note: the plot of A Stir of Echoes differs from the film in many details. The base story is, of course, the same, but the identities of the participants -- the alleged ghost, the alleged killer -- are different, which allows for a novel experience in reading a book you think you're already familiar with.)
Although not one of Matheson's best efforts, it nevertheless makes for a page turning, good read. Written nearly half a century ago, the book still has a contemporary feel to it. There are just a few issues which remind one how long ago it was written. Its central themes, however, are as fresh today, as when the book was first published.
The main character in the book is Tom Wallace, a working stiff with a house and family, who goes to a local gathering of friends and family. There he allows himself to be hypnotized by a relative who is an amateur hypnotist. A doubting Thomas, he agrees to undergo hypnosis in the belief that he would not be susceptible to it. Much to his chagrin and the amusement of others, he is, indeed, put under. Shortly after coming out of his trance, he finds that life, as he knew it, had irrevocably changed.
What he had thought was a cheap parlor trick, turned out to be the catalyst that changed his immediate reality. His existence began to be punctuated by visions, telepathic intrusions, psychic impressions, and other paranormal experiences. The effect that this has on him, his life, and those whom he loves is what gives the book its substance.
It is this altered reality, however, that makes his new life more meaningful than the one he had been leading prior to his being hypnotized. The book barrels on to a climactic ending, as events from the past intrude on the present, demanding a resolution. The realization that things or people are not always what they seem is brought home here with great impact.
Do yourself a favor, read the book and skip the movie. They bear little resemblance to one another.
on April 30, 2000
While "Stir Of Echoes" is not as emotionally compelling as Matheson's classics "I Am Legend" or "What Dreams May Come," this is still one hell of a good read. It's a tribute to Matheson's skill as a writer that this novel is almost as fresh as the day it was written - there are only two or three items throughout the entire book that might give away the fact that it was penned over four decades ago. The "horror" in this novel will probably be as discomfitting as a hangnail for fans of the in-your-face "slice & dice" gore of a Clive Barker or a Robert McCammon. "Stir Of Echoes" doesn't rely on a steadily rising body count to draw you along - it keeps your interest by demonstrating just how fragile "normality" can be. Not just among your friends and neighbors, but also within your own family, within your own mind. The increasing sense of isolation in the main character, Tom Wallace, is what drives "Stir Of Echoes". This fast-paced novel is a very pleasant diversion for a Saturday afternoon at the beach or an evening at home.
on June 20, 2000
Richard Matheson is apparently the writer who influenced Stephen King more than any other. The similarities in the carefully constructed worlds of each are obvious, every detail crafted to draw paralells with the daily life of each reader. Subsuqently the descent into nightmare is believable and chilling, and something ordinary can achieve a terrifying significance. Matheson is on top form here as ever, easing us gently into the lazy pace of suburban life. When the main character is hypnotised at a party, the slide begins. Awareness of things previously unseen and telepathic messages from people he's never met are only the beginning. Matheson's gift is to make the outlandish seem possible, if not probable. He makes no mistakes here. Chilling, entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable. Matheson is a giant of the genre.
It's no small wonder that Stephen King heaps praise upon Matheson and gives Matheson credit for influencing his works. Matheson, without a doubt, is one of our all-time greats, and I have yet to read a bad book or short story by him.
Surprisingly, I read this novel only after seeing the movie starring Kevin Bacon. Let me say what has pretty much become my life's motto: The book is much better than the film. Tom Wallace is your everyday good joe; he works hard, he supports his family, and he is quite happy to live out his life without much excitement. Thanks to some interesting parlor tricks at a party with some close friends, Wallace finds that he can hear people's most private thoughts, and this often thrusts him into some uncomfortable and dangerous situations. Matheson also lets us in on the conflicts arising with Wallace's family and within himself as he struggles to deal with his blessing/curse.
Don't pick this up expecting gruesome, chill-you-to-the-bone horror. This is much more subtle and focuses on the increasing isolation of a man who wants nothing more than to get back his old life. Although the movie twisted this into a thriller, Matheson actually wrote it (at least in my opinion) to be a touching, chilling, and psychological story. This one is a quick read at just over 200 pages, but it packs a punch. If you are new to Matheson, this is a good place to start; then grab HELL HOUSE for something a bit more twisted, bizarre, and creepy!
on December 19, 2011
A master storyteller. I read this story in one night. Could not stop reading. Study his writing if you want to tell stories. It's different from the movie. I also enjoyed the movie but the book is of course much better.
Author Kelly Jameson
I saw Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes years ago and really enjoyed the movie as a slow boil horror/mystery. I’d known Richard Matheson, a renowned writer who produced tales of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and penned more than a few Twilight Zone episodes, had written the book the movie was based on, but I’d never read it.
I wanted something different to read in the middle of all the Dray Prescot books I’m reading over the Christmas break, happened across this one on Amazon, and downloaded it on a whim. Then I sat down to read.
Richard Matheson was an excellent storyteller. It doesn’t matter what medium he worked in: novel, short story, television. He just introduced you to a character and a situation, and then he got on with it. A Stir of Echoes (notice that the book is titled differently than the movie) starts out calmly, just a dinner date that includes a brother-in-law who gets along well with his sister and Tom Wallace, the narrator of this tale.
After getting hypnotized, Tom starts seeing a mysterious woman in his house and becomes convinced she is a ghost. This book was written back in 1958 (I was actually surprised by the copyright date) and talk of medium and séances had kind of faded, although SF had picked up the “wild talents” theory (basically psi powers like telepathy, precognition, and psychometry, etc.).
Matheson’s story is a quick, gripping read. Although I had seen the movie, I was delighted to learn that the book was not the same story. Most of it is there, but the tension ratchets up in different ways and the ending is much different.
The thing I liked the most is the fact that Tom Wallace just seems like an everyday guy, a buddy you could hang with at work, a friend who has a family life and problems similar to yours. It’s that everyman feel that really sets off this book. I was swept away by the story, by Tom’s problems and his efforts to handle them for himself and his family. I was so caught up in them that I forgot that I wasn’t reading about the 21st century. The absence of computers and cell phones never really touched me because I was so firmly entrenched in Tom’s world.
The book does take a weird twist at the end, and that bothered me somewhat. Although Tom is on hand for the finale, he’s not really cognizant of the action. I didn’t much care for that, but the whole confrontation that takes place proceeds at a blistering pace and turns so unexpectedly I was caught flatfooted.
This is a good book for a weekend read. Dedicated readers can probably knock it out in a night or two. Rest assured, if you’ve seen the Kevin Bacon movie (also good!), you haven’t seen everything Matheson has to offer. Pick up a copy for a slow, dark weekend and enjoy being captivated
on September 11, 2015
I saw the movie based on this book (Stir of Echoes) first and wanted to complete the experience by reading the original novel. Richard Matheson is a wonderful author and conveys feeling and tone very effectively in his work. Although written in the 50's the story has a contemporary feel with only a few nods to the time period it takes place. It differs greatly from the film adaptation as is often the case but the core premise is the same.
on March 26, 2014
The Stir of Echos movie (with Kevin Bacon) - is one of my favorites, so I was a bit disappointed with the book, to be honest. Maybe because I was expecting the story to go a certain way, but it takes a different approach. The story itself felt a little limited, like a player set in one room of the house.
Not sure how to explain it - I did not feel that there was a world in the book, just a set and some characters. The story was too short to really delve into the characters themselves, so they ended up being a bit flat and just "fillers" to me. I felt that there was an overabundance of description for things that really did not need that much describing, and not enough scares.
At times, I felt like the author was trying too hard to convey a feeling or emotion, and overdid it, by making the whole thing redundant.
In conclusion - I generally enjoy Mr. Matheson's work and writing, but for me this book did not flow. I felt the movie was a much better story, and told in a more entertaining way.
on January 2, 2016
Tom is a regular guy with an active social life. His life is very interwoven with his neighbors and he has a sweet little family.
The book was written in 1958 and it shows in fun little ways like the neighbors knowing all of each others business whether they want to or not, and other little social norms like the husband going to the grocery store for his wife, and all the meals are home cooked .
Sigh, makes me wish I could visit. But not say. Because only white males really had such a fantastic deal in those days, and I'm pretty sure my homemaking skills would get me beat on a regular basis much like one of the women in the book... but anyways back on track.
Tom is your everyday likable guy with a wife and baby who adore him and another baby on the way. One night, at a party at his brother in laws house, he allows his brother in law to hypnotize him for the groups entertainment.
But something must have gone wrong, because now Tom is seeing things, knowing things, that he shouldn't.
There was a movie with this title that came out in the late 90's and the two do have a lot in common. However, the book and the movie are different enough that I still recommend trying the book even if you've seen the movie.
The narrator, Scott Brick, did an excellent job. 5 stars