i'm sort of sad i can't give this a more enthusiastic yes. matheson has given me a lot over the years. his touch is all over film and television: he penned screenplays for the roger corman-poe cycle i loved so well growing up. he also famously wrote a significant portion of the classic twilight zone episodes and some of the most memorable: nightmare at twenty thousand feet, the doll, the invaders, and little girl lost among them. for that alone, i might have loved him. but then of course there is [b:I Am Legend|14064|I Am Legend|Richard Matheson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348790367s/14064.jpg|19273256], justly regarded as a classic vampire novel, and then the remarkably disturbing [b:The Incredible Shrinking Man|754253|The Incredible Shrinking Man|Richard Matheson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312044191s/754253.jpg|936694], which bears but passing resemblance to the films that have shared and changed its name. those were fantastic novels that really made emotional impressions on me. and he also wrote the teleplays that brought my favourite newspaperman, carl kolchak to life.
so, you know, i want to love everything the guy ever did.
but i can't say that's true. in fact, if i look at his bibliography it seems to me that i'm not really a fan of his later work. he published hell house in 1971, and i thought it was good but lacked the tension and impact of his earlier stories and novels. and journal of the gun years is a much later work -- twenty years later. i guess i should give thanks it's not [b:Hunted Past Reason|219545|Hunted Past Reason|Richard Matheson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312023461s/219545.jpg|1413424].
all that to say there is still some substantial charm here. i like tales of the west, and he's adept at character. there are a bunch of wild escapades, and those are hard to resist. but the structure is clunky as all get out, and i was really surprised at some of the choices he made -- at times it strikes me more as a creative exercise, a working out of a character that will be the backbone of a substantial novel that it really isn't.
i always wonder how much of the output that beloved writers publish in their later years is new work, and how much is stuff that they put away for a rainy day because it wasn't quite right, and then forgetting there were problems they just submit it to their agents for publication when they start to run out of money. matheson also wrote constantly and steadily, repurposing as he went through tv and film and magazines and novels. it would have been a remarkable feat if all of it was as good as the shrinking man.