There is nothing quite like reading a good story for the second time. For Richard Matheson’s “Somewhere in Time,” which I originally read (almost in one sitting) at the Oxford library, it’s an illuminating read into the author’s thoughts of women.
The protagonist, Robert Collier, falls in love with a photograph and convinces himself that he can move backwards seventy five years to be with her.
In contrast to Matheson’s usually analytical style, the abstract is favored, and he lavishes time on convincing the reader, as well as Collier himself, that this love is the abstract adoration of something you can’t believe you’re feeling. It derails, it upsets, and it is uncanny. But plausible. That’s a difficult feat.
I appreciated it all the more the second time around and found myself agreeing with Matheson’s review (in the back) that he felt Somewhere in Time was his best-written novel.
Similarly, Peter S. Beagle’s “Quarry,” from “The Line Between” anthology, is still as compelling a tale of forced companionship as it was when I first read it. I found no flaws with it, no previously undiscovered problems when I reread it.
Somewhere in Time however… the women’s liberation was a little out of the blue. He gives Elise body and dramatic soul, but at her heart, Matheson still believes Elise needs a man (to put it bluntly). He gives her a life beyond men, give long-running speeches on her manners and methods of running her life (which make stimulating reading, no sarcasm there)–but ultimately, the woman that is freed needs a man.
And maybe this is right. Maybe Elise believes that she needs a man as well. I’ve no problem with the romance of the novel–it’s beautiful to watch such devotion built on nothing more than love and hope. But does she really need a man to feel complete (in Matheson’s opinion), or is that just a reflection of her time period, the only thing she can think to solve her problem of being confined inside social expectations? If she wants to function in this 1896 world–
To be woman is to be weak in masculine eyes, but to throw all that away really is a departure from her well-developed character. Hm. I really have great respect for Matheson’s handling of her character, because she is much more than the young actress Collier fell in love with. Some of her dialogue is surprising, in ways that I didn’t catch the first time around, and leaves me wondering if the uncanny is the only way she would have changed her mind about men.
And, since Collier changed her from a pretty, sweet actress to one who could depict a tragic, compelling figure onstage, is it that only a man can change a woman’s career? That is, perhaps, taking it too far, but the ending raises questions without answers.
It did that the first time around too.