Up Close: Wet straw by Richard Matheson

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I read the version of Wet Straw published in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2002). It is one of two published by the author in Weird Tales in 1953. This is another clearly-structured story with the narrator trying to resolve his sleep problem over successive nights. As in the last story, there is a third person limited persective which switches for the ending, and it is another story of a few pages. Most of its effect comes from the limited information the narrator is willing to give us. I am still not sure if the narrator is a cold-blooded murderer, or is suppressing the details of a traumatic event. The main thing is that it serves the story’s grim ending. The detail of how the narrator is able to return from the dream state by reaching out and touching the wall, the sheet, the window, is classy. The ghost lover angle is enjoyable too, though I think I would have remembered the lover’s pact even if I were a cold-blooded killer. The character’s main goal is to get a good night’s sleep. The dramatic question is why he is having these dreams. I think the main obstacle for the narrator in resolving his problems is his unwillingness to face the truth that his lover has come back to fulfil their death pact. In a sense this story could easily be resolved in one short violent night.

I can’t sleep easy because I murdered my wife. Oh no, we made a death pact that if one of us died the other would return to claim the remainder, and she can only manifest while I am dreaming. She’s going to come back and kill me. Mental note to self: don’t fall asleep. I feel sleepy. Noooooo!

In short, there is a great intro which sets out the problem, followed by a climatic middle when the narrator cuts his wrist while reaching for the window, and a violent conclusion. Good pulpy fun.