As the story begins, Scott Carey is a man of “above average” size with a wife and daughter

Subtext Here Matheson seems to be touching on the fear and angst that can accompany someone regarding the physical act of love when dealing with excessive shrinkage

While on the ocean, he is doused with “radioactive” water that causes him to immediately begin shrinking. From there the story is told through two interweaving plot lines. The “present” shows Scott when he is shudder 5/7 of an inch big, hiding in his basement and living a survivors existence trying to find food and water while battling a Black Widow spider and an oversized pussy cat (the obvious symbolic meaning of these two are discussed below). Meanwhile, the second plot thread is a series of “flashbacks” in which we see Scott dwindle from his above average size all the way down to the point where Scott is so small that he no longer even sees himself as a man.

It is during these flashbacks that I think Matheson’s writing and story-telling is at its most poignant and compelling. Once Carey loses his above average size, his self esteem and rational demeanor begin to erode at once. Does anyone still think Matheson is talking about “height”. I think not!! As Scott continues to lose inches, he is unable to concentrate at work and becomes obsessed with what he views as kid glove treatment from those who know about “IT.”

Almost immediately after Scott experiences the first signs of shrinkage, his marriage begins to suffer (big surprise, huh). This deterioration continues as Scott gets smaller and smaller until there is no physical contact at all between Scott and his wife. In the negative reaction of Scott’s wife, Matheson again shows how he was beautiful lithuanian women decades ahead of his time in recognizing and confronting what in modern times has become a cliche.

Matheson was brilliant in his depiction of the psychological trauma that accompanied Scott’s reduction in size and I don’t believe there has ever been a more evocative examination of this deeply emotional issue. The fact that all of this deep and penetrating analysis needed to be done behind the veil of an “acceptable” plot makes the depth of the writing even more amazing.

Here are just a few examples of Matheson’s superb ability to write an acceptable upon surface story while engaging in heated, passionate intercourse upon his true themes:

Surface Plot: As mentioned above, the trauma for Scott begins story begins with him being doused with water after which he immediately begins to experience shrinkage. Subtext: Scott is shown to be the “everyman” as he is confronted with the classic factors contributing to shrinkage.

Scott feels as though his wife is less attracted to him and sees her attempt to maintain a normal relationship as condescending

Surface Plot: Chapter headings are all done in inches alone (e.g., 68”, 64”, etc.) rather then the more common height measurements of feet and inches. Subtext: Matheson’s use of the common unit of male size rather than height is a clear indication that he was asking his readers to strip away normal conventions.

Surface Plot: As Scott finds himself smaller and smaller he is confronted by the main “monster” of the story. a female Black Widow spider. Subtext: The subtle imagery in this plot device is almost magical in its invocation of the often harsh, uncaring female when it comes to the issue of shrinkage.

Surface Plot: Almost as telling is Scott’s dangerous encounter with an oversized pussy cat just after going through a heartfelt inner monologue about his concern over his current size. The appearance of the “cat” so soon after Scott’s internal expression of inadequacy appears to confirm this.