The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Richard Matheson deals in this novel with the subject of life after death, incorporating his own views of the purpose of life. Chris Nielsen, a television writer, is involved in an automobile accident and witnesses his own death in a hospital room. At first, he refuses to accept his death. A man he does not at first recognize appears by his bedside to aid his transition to the afterworld, but Chris’s longing to be with his wife and to comfort her prevents him from listening to the man. Chris witnesses his own funeral and the well-intentioned attempt by his son, Richard, to console his wife, Ann. Ann does not believe in life after death, and Richard’s attempt to convince her ends with disastrous results.

For a time, Chris continues to try to convince his wife of his existence, but by degrees he comes to realize that this is futile and that remaining in the physical world is no longer valid. It is then that he is able to make the transition to the afterworld.

Chris wakes up in a pleasant, idealized world similar to the one he left but nonmaterial. He is greeted by the man who had appeared by his bedside, whom he now recognizes as a deceased cousin, Albert. Albert acts as a guide, explaining to Chris the details of the afterworld, which he calls Summerland, and the ultimate destination of the soul.

Chris’s concern for his wife holds him back and increases when Albert informs him that Ann has committed suicide and is condemned to...

(The entire section is 431 words.)