Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review: Road Rage: Two Novellas

Road Rage: Two Novellas
Road Rage: Two Novellas by Joe Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a decent way to pass a couple of hours on the road.

Road Rage is two novellas: Richard Matheson's "Duel," which inspired a movie of the same name by Steven Spielberg, as well as "Throttle," a short story written by Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill.

Matheson is probably best known by modern readers for I Am Legend, which has spawned several movies, but he also wrote some of the most intriguing and memorable Twilight Zone episodes. "Duel" is about an ordinary salesman taking a back road, and randomly encountering a murderous trucker on the route. The truck driver is given a name (Keller) and a description (square hands, square face), but he exists as an embodiment of fear more than anything else. We never learn why he's trying to dominate the road and kill Mann, the perspective character of "Duel." Mann certainly speculates, but he never gets an answer.

"Duel" is not that kind of story, though. The horror and mystery of "Duel" is that it's so random and can happen to anyone. I found myself grateful, while I drove, that there weren't any trucks on the road.

"Throttle," by contrast, keeps the truck driver faceless, but gives him plenty of reason to be upset with the bikers who fill the role of protagonist only in that the story is from their perspective. They're not good people, and they're running away from having done something terrible. And yet, in a testament to King and Hill's writing, the reader does wind up rooting for the bikers to somehow survive being mowed down by a huge, unstoppable truck.

It's clear where the latter story was inspired by the former, but, side-by-side, it's a strange experience. I would recommend this for people who are already familiar with "Duel," either as the short story or the movie. Coming into it fresh creates a certain frame of mind that makes the earlier story pale in comparison to Hill and King's update. I would've very much liked to have savored "Duel," to mull over its themes and subtleties, but listening to them back-to-back took that opportunity, and I think it lost something in translation.

Doubtless this will be a different experience in future listens, but this "reading" of this audio book was not what I anticipated from three such masters of horror and suspense.

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