The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

The Shrinking Man

The Shrinking Man is aptly named. It’s a sci-fi novel about Scott Carey, a man who shrinks uncontrollably more and more each day. Scott’s troubles begin when he accidentally swallows insecticide. Then, whilst on holiday, he is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray (this guy can’t catch a break!). The combination of these two events cause him to start shrinking about 1/7 of an inch a day. Matheson makes the whole process sound a lot more scientific, but since that was an interesting part of the plot for me, I don’t want to say much more about it in case I ruin it for you (assuming that you’ll actually read the book that is. Which you totally should, because it’s awesome!)

What I like most about this novel is the way that Matheson describes Scott’s life as he struggles with getting smaller. Not only does he have to deal with the physical challenges of being small, but he also has to deal with family issues. Throughout the shrinking process, Scott understandably continues to have feelings for his wife Louise. There comes a point, however, when he’s just too small to be intimate with her (if you know what I mean). He wrestles with his feelings of  decreasing masculinity as he notices his wife behaving differently towards him the smaller he gets. And then there’s his six year old daughter, Beth. Scott has to deal with the frustrations of failing to be an authoritative father to a child who towers above him. At one point in the novel, when he’s about as small as a doll, Beth picks him up. Scott is alarmed by this because, being the child that she is, she grips him too tightly and doesn’t respond to his demands that she put him down. It is at this point that he realises that he no longer has a parental role, and this realisation hits him like a tonne of bricks. It is Scott’s emotional turmoil that make this novel completely brilliant.

Events within the novel unfold quickly and Matheson uses a lot of well placed flashbacks to show Scott’s physical and emotional changes. I always thought it would be fun to have a super power that enabled me to shrink and grow at will (a bit like Ant Man), but after reading this I totally take that back. Being tiny is scary! Poor Scott has to battle a bloodthirsty spider, he struggles to find food and water, and even the quietest sounds are deafening to him. None of that sounds fun…

Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, I would still highly recommend The Shrinking Man. The psychological reflections and existential thoughts that Scott experiences makes this novel so much more than just a standard science fiction tale.

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