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The Shrinking Man (1956)

by Richard Matheson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7243024,455 (3.79)49
While on a boating holiday, Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray. A few weeks later, following a series of medical examinations, he can no longer deny the extraordinary truth. Not only is he losing weight, he is also shorter than he was. Scott Carey has begun to shrink. Richard Matheson's novel follows through its premise with remorseless logic, with Carey first attempting to continue some kind of normal life and later having left human contact behind, having to survive in a world where insects and spiders are giant adversaries. And even that is only a stage on his journey into the unknown.… (more)
  1. 00
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Novel by Jack Finney (sturlington)
    sturlington: classic '50s sci-fi
  2. 00
    A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson (sturlington)
    sturlington: Similar themes and protagonist.
  3. 00
    Cold War in a Country Garden by Lindsay Gutteridge (Michael.Rimmer)
  4. 00
    I Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson (sturlington)
    sturlington: Similar in many ways. Each stays in the head of a solitary hero, isolated by unnatural events beyond his control, struggling to hold onto his sanity and his sense of self.
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» See also 49 mentions

English (27)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
It’s a Small World ...

Most probably know this novel in its film form, which author Richard Matheson helped adapt to the screen. However, it is worth reading the original novel version because some aspects of the it never made it to the screen or were changed (such as the child molestation scene or his infidelity with Clarice).

Reading the novel provides you with a deeper understanding of the conflict shrinking, that is, becoming less a man, arouses in Scott Carey. His self-image, you might argue, is very 1950s and dated. While this may be true for a portion of the population, expectations change slowly for many people, and so Scott’s increasing feelings of inadequacy, his loss of his manly privileges, his sense of personal failure in not being able to provide for his family or make love to his wife, and his compensation strategies, particularly that of being primal male living by his wits (most strongly reflected in overcoming his spider fear and then dispatching his bane, the black widow, in the cellar). Ultimately, after much shrinkage and even more self-self-flagellation over his plight, Scott comes to terms with himself and looks forward to exploring new worlds, down to the subatomic.

The novel’s also interesting for the way Matheson has structured it. He divides the story between Scott as a seventh-inch man trapped in the basement of a house scavenging for food and water while fending off his personal imagined fears and the real fear of the black widow, and the process of Scott’s shrinking. In each scene of Scott reducing, we learn more about the indignities he has suffered and the concerns he has endured. With each scene, we grasp a bit more about his plight and how he finally ended up in the basement, forever separated from his family. (The film version is traditional linear storytelling.)

While classified in the science fiction genre, The Shrinking Man is as much, or perhaps more, a psychological thriller and a primer on the social structure and male exceptions of the 1950s. All in all, worthy of being included in the Library of America editions, and of your time.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
It’s a Small World ...

Most probably know this novel in its film form, which author Richard Matheson helped adapt to the screen. However, it is worth reading the original novel version because some aspects of the it never made it to the screen or were changed (such as the child molestation scene or his infidelity with Clarice).

Reading the novel provides you with a deeper understanding of the conflict shrinking, that is, becoming less a man, arouses in Scott Carey. His self-image, you might argue, is very 1950s and dated. While this may be true for a portion of the population, expectations change slowly for many people, and so Scott’s increasing feelings of inadequacy, his loss of his manly privileges, his sense of personal failure in not being able to provide for his family or make love to his wife, and his compensation strategies, particularly that of being primal male living by his wits (most strongly reflected in overcoming his spider fear and then dispatching his bane, the black widow, in the cellar). Ultimately, after much shrinkage and even more self-self-flagellation over his plight, Scott comes to terms with himself and looks forward to exploring new worlds, down to the subatomic.

The novel’s also interesting for the way Matheson has structured it. He divides the story between Scott as a seventh-inch man trapped in the basement of a house scavenging for food and water while fending off his personal imagined fears and the real fear of the black widow, and the process of Scott’s shrinking. In each scene of Scott reducing, we learn more about the indignities he has suffered and the concerns he has endured. With each scene, we grasp a bit more about his plight and how he finally ended up in the basement, forever separated from his family. (The film version is traditional linear storytelling.)

While classified in the science fiction genre, The Shrinking Man is as much, or perhaps more, a psychological thriller and a primer on the social structure and male exceptions of the 1950s. All in all, worthy of being included in the Library of America editions, and of your time.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
Not impressed. The main character, Scott Carey, is whiney and lacks motivation for doing anything. His main nemesis, the spider, was more conceptual, than real, with only one short battle. The secondary characters were weak and mostly non-existent. His wife, child, even the Tom Thumb character at the circus were boring. It took more than half of the book to explain why he was shrinking an inch per day, and then you were left hanging at the end. Skip it. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
This is the book filmed in the 1950s as The Incredible Shrinking Man. Matheson also wrote I am Legend, the short story Duel (filmed by Spielberg) and several episodes of The Twilight Zone—which is what this book reminded me of: a cut-down version would have made a good T Zone episode.
    It's a lot darker than the movie though; bleaker, Scott Carey's suffering more relentless. He endures hunger, cold and despair. Also, as his body shrinks, his ego shrinks with it: we see a strapping six-footer no longer able to satisfy his wife; and reduced, briefly, to living in a dollshouse. In its way, like I am Legend, it's a sort of Last Man Left On Earth story too: as he dwindles further, he leaves the human world behind altogether: loneliness becomes an even bigger enemy than that Spider.
    Incidentally, for anyone who likes Shrunk-Down stories, there's another (Cold War in a Country Garden by Lindsay Gutteridge, from the 1970s) which is about as different in tone as could be. ( )
  justlurking | Jul 4, 2021 |
Sex and science fiction were uncomfortable bed fellows in the 1950's, and I was surprised to find sexual issues addressed with some sympathy in Matheson's story of Scott Carey; The Shrinking Man. Shrinking an inch a week even after 6 months is likely to cause problems in many marital situations and after a year with no sign of a halt to the shrinking then relationships sexual and otherwise would have to be rethought. Scott Carey is a proud individualist and fights for survival until the very end; this does not usually sit with a more sensitive soul and after all this is a science fiction novel written in the 1950's when male chauvinistic men of mettle were the norm. Now I do not read science fiction from over 60 years ago for its exploration of sexual mores, but I do "sit up" when personal sexual difficulties are not only discussed, but are integral to the story line. Scott Carey in the prime of life does not lose his sexual appetite with his shrinking, but of course finds it difficult to talk about it to his wife.

In I Am Legend: Matheson first successful novel there was an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia along with an increasingly desperate battle against impossible odds. This formula is largely repeated here: when we meet Scott Carey he is an inch high and is running across a desert, being pursued by a spider. As the book unfolds we learn through flashbacks that Scott has been trapped in the cellar for the last two and a half months and that his world has shrunk with his size. He is an inch tall and is resigned to shrinking one seventh of an inch per 24 hours and so by the end of the week he will cease to exist. We learn that a toxic mixture of radiation and insecticide has caused his condition and despite many weeks of treatment no cure has been found. He has remained at home being supported by his wife and his young daughter to the best of their abilities, but after he loses his job then the family face an increasingly difficult financial situation. The flash backs are interspersed with Scotts battle to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment for the last seven days of his life. Finding water and food sets him off on climbing expeditions that test his physical abilities to their limit as well as extreme problem solving. These sections of the story are an adventure wonderland, but the interspersions of the back story are no less intriguing. They are mostly skilfully done and reveal aspects of Scotts character as well as an increasing alienation from a world that has grown too big for him.

One of the most poignant episodes is before eventually being trapped in the cellar, he is banished there by his wife who has to employ a child minder while she goes out to work. Scott has dealt badly with the publicity caused by his condition and does not wish to expose himself any further hence he must hide in the cellar. He fantasises about a beautiful 17 year old female child minder and when he finally catches sight of her he sees a dumpy teenager, but he still cannot control his desire and risks his life for glimpses of her from the high cellar window. This exploration of an inner life, conscious and unconscious puts this book firmly in the category of a novel, albeit a fantasy novel. Matheson has created a fantasy world that is full of realism and although the science is pure gobbledygook, his world is one of wonder. The Shrinking Man was published in 1956 and is now part of the science fiction masterwork series. The book has of course been made into a successful film "The Incredible Shrinking Man" scripted partly by Matheson.
This is a fantasy novel, although a dark and brooding one with gothic elements that might appeal to a crossover readership, Matheson has also made a name for himself in the horror genre and as a genre novel I rate it as a five star read. ( )
2 vote baswood | Jul 31, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matheson, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Giancola, DonatoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hooks, MitchellCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morrissey, DeanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paillé, J. M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rossetto, EladiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strassl, LoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First he thought it was a tidal wave.
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Memory was such a worthless thing, really. Nothing it dealt with was attainable. It was concerned with phantom acts and feelings, with all that was uncapturable except in thought.
Responsibility in the jungle world was pared to the bone of basic survival. There were no political connivings necessary, no financial arenas to struggle in, no nerve-knotting races for superior rungs on the social ladder. There was only to be or not to be.
To love someone when there was nothing to be got from that person; that was love.
But to nature there was no zero. Existence went on in endless cycles. It seemed so simple now. He would never disappear, because there was no point of non-existence in the universe.
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This is the stand-alone novel. Please do not combine with story collections.
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While on a boating holiday, Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray. A few weeks later, following a series of medical examinations, he can no longer deny the extraordinary truth. Not only is he losing weight, he is also shorter than he was. Scott Carey has begun to shrink. Richard Matheson's novel follows through its premise with remorseless logic, with Carey first attempting to continue some kind of normal life and later having left human contact behind, having to survive in a world where insects and spiders are giant adversaries. And even that is only a stage on his journey into the unknown.

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