Thursday, March 11, 2021

Richard Matheson’s Fury on Sunday

The psycho-sexual thriller Fury on Sunday was Richard Matheson’s second novel. Or rather, it was his third novel but his second published novel. It appeared in 1953.

New Jersey-born Richard Matheson (1926-2013) was better known as a science fiction writer and also had a very successful career writing for films and television (including some of the most acclaimed episodes of the original Twilight Zone series).

The events of Fury on Sunday occur over the course of a single night.

Vince is a concert pianist. Or he was, until they locked him up in the insane asylum. Vince’s problems started when his father Saul, also a concert pianist, had his career cut short by serious injuries to his hands. Saul then dedicated his life to turning his son into a great pianist, and to basking in the reflected glory. He taught Vince to play the piano, to hate women and to fear sex. Vince was seriously messed up long before he ended up in the asylum.

Ruth was the problem, or at least the catalyst for Vince’s mental collapse. He fell in love with Ruth. Not in a sexual way, because Vince knew that Ruth was clean and pure and Vince didn’t want any of that sort of thing. His love was pure. But Ruth married Bob. Of course Vince knows that she didn’t really want to marry Bob. Bob must have tricked her into it and she undoubtedly wants to escape Bob and be with Vince. 

And then there was Ruth’s friend Jane. Jane tried to seduce Vince. Jane in fact has seduced countless men. Vince knows what those sorts of women are like. And he still remembers, with horror, the feel of her naked breasts pressing against him. Jane is married to Vince’s former manager Stan but she despises Stan and won’t even let him touch her any longer. So there are plenty of sexual dramas in this tale.

Vince knows what he has to do. He has to kill Bob and rescue Ruth. He and Ruth will go away together, and live together like brother and sister. All Vince has to do is escape from the asylum. And he has a plan. He will take advantage of the fact that the male nurse Harry has been trying to seduce him. Once he’s killed Harry he’ll be free, he’ll kill Bob, and Ruth will be free.

And Vince does escape, he steals a gun, and thus begins a night of madness and terror as Vince holds Ruth, Bob, Stan and Jane hostage while he tries to figure out what he should and which of them he should kill.

This is early Matheson so it’s still a bit rough round the edges but there’s plenty of tension. He’s not just interested in getting inside Vince’s hopelessly disturbed and disordered mind but inside the minds of the other characters as well. It’s a fairly chilling portrait of mental illness. Vince’s plan makes sense and is even quite clever, except that it’s based on initial premises that are ludicrously mistaken. His madness has a certain logical consistency. And he is incapable of accepting that everything he does is based on a tragic misreading of his own motivations and the motivations of others.

The climax is reasonably exciting. Not everyone is going to get out of this situation alive, but which of them will be the ones that survive?

The book is saturated in sexual frustration and sexual perversity.

Fury on Sunday certainly doesn’t compare to Matheson’s science fiction masterpieces such as I Am Legend, Hell House and The Shrinking Man but it has lots of twisted psycho-sexual energy. Recommended.

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