This was a little more wacky than I expected. I mean I still felt an underlying menace, but it more like a more-threatening-than-average episode of the Munsters. (A werewolf! A vampire! A witch! Oh my!)
It was particularly interesting for me as I’m in the middle of writing a romantic comedy series about a family that runs a funeral home (slash-bait-shop. It’s set in the South. We like to make the most of our business space.) Obviously, my work is a slightly lighter women’s fiction take on the funeral business, so this Haunted Mansion style approach to burying people was a neat palate cleanser.
I will say this is a much more humorous work than Matheson’s novels, particularly I Am Legend. It feels like Matheson is trying to purge the darkness from his system in some sort of writing prompt experiment. It’s fun and its a little silly, but still very sophisticated and polished.
The Funeral seems to make much of the stereotype of the gaunt, clammy-handed mortician who has spent so much time with corpses that he doesn’t know how to interact with the living. While it’s fun to play with that as a writer, I’ve known several funeral directors over the years – they’re generally sweet and gentle souls, who go out of their way not to be creepy. My high school’s vice principal – who was one of the few school officials to appreciate my sarcasm – worked as a funeral director after his retirement – which should tell you something about what the man put up with as a principal that he considered talking contracts with the bereaved and breaking up fights as visitation to be his RESTFUL golden years job.
I never noticed any of these real-life funeral directors being quite so sycophantic or using the supercilious ten-dollar words that Mr. Silkline used. His abuse of overblown adjectives reminded me of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, particularly his distant worship of Mrs. Clooney. But I enjoyed his reverent indignation on behalf of the damaged upholstery and drapes. Jenny really needs to get a handle on her angry lightning powers.
I did question some of the language choices Matheson used. Several of them – “catalfaque” and “calumnies” and “cromlech” – I questioned were they were actual words. Was he trying to use all of the options in his thesaurus? Was there a list of words another writer bet him that he couldn’t use in a story? Did he really love or hate the letter “C?” While many of the illustrative details used – the onyx pen holder, the cherry-bright eyes, the snail-backed assistant – made the story rich and colorful, I found these word choices to be intrusive and distracting.
Overall, while I enjoyed the story as a little bite of horror, I kind of wondered what the point of the story was. Mr. Silkline goes from being completely uncomfortable with a funeral for a living (or at least, conscious) person to lovingly stroking the gold he collected from the oddball and destructive service to resigning himself to a career devoted to funeral services for monsters. It shows growth and there’s a punchline. But it seems to leave so many questions unanswered and seems to be underdeveloped. Like it’s the introduction or excerpts from a larger work. I would like to see more.