Or listening to classical music while toiling away in desperation. I’ve chopped garlic myself with Pavane in the background when I’m in one of my gourmet cooking moods, but only Robert Neville has made me rethink the pungent smell of garlic that can stay in my flesh.
I became a fan of Matheson the moment I realized the depth of Neville’s desperation and solitude, when he came home late one afternoon, in cold fear for the life he painstakingly guarded. For once, it didn’t matter that he was getting a little mad talking only to his drunken self and the walking dead.
Robert Neville, the sole survivor who has stopped cleaning his house, but is still proud to be brushing his teeth, doesn’t want to die a brainless death.
One hand ran nervously through his hair. This is fine, fine, commented his mind. You go all the trouble to preserve your existence, and then one day you just don’t come back in time. Shut up! his mind snapped back at itself. But he could have killed himself for forgetting to wind his watch the night before. Don’t bother killing yourself, his mind reflected, they’d be glad to do it for you…
This is the kind of horror storytelling that I can read without getting my imagination overactive. Everyone can relate to Neville. Everyone has displayed a little bit of madness. And it is this kind of inner dialogue that I especially liked in I Am Legend. It inspired Stephen King so much, that I’d like to believe he pays tribute to Matheson every time his characters have a special relationship with a cigarette or liquor.
There’s one flashback in this novel that is rightfully creepy.
In the movie, it reveals Neville as a family man as he tearfully watches his wife and daughter being lifted by the military helicopter, but in the book, the flashback provides the background to Neville’s trip to the cemetery. So that’s one new thing for readers who have seen the film, but are yet to read this book.
Solitude is actually a beautiful thing if there are no zombies waiting outside your plywood-covered, garlic-smelling, generator-powered house and if the only thing that you fear, is the fear of being interrupted from your reading or writing.
But in such horrible circumstances, for instance, when the medicines needed to counter an outbreak of disease are suddenly out of stock (not impossible to happen, what with very few superpower countries dominating supply chain of goods and services and manufacturing is almost always offshored), establishing the industry of survival, not to mention the prospect of spending hours of loneliness are better experienced in fiction.