Ira Levin. You know the guy: novelist, playwright and the man whose stories became adapted into a dozen or so films, from Sliver to The Boys From Brazil. A jobbing writer, whose tight planning is a thing of wonder.
Nightmares is a collection of three of Levin’s novels in one book club-style hardback. It’s something that I came across in an op shop in a small town in the middle of the country, which is probably fitting because each of the stories are about people fitting in – or trying to fit in – to a community.
The three tales (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and A Kiss Before Dying) come from various points in Levin’s career (1967, 1972 and his 1953 debut) but each provides a solid example of the thriller. Each story revolves around community and family – through pregnancy, moving town and, well, murder respectively – but there’s not as much of a hack or pulp vibe as I’d expected. There’s more awareness of social issues than I’d expected, and I was surprised by Levin’s use of a woman’s viewpoint in some cases. Perhaps I’m more ignorant of this era of thrillers than I’d imagined, but the stories in each seemed to have a bit more depth than I would have thought likely.
As each of these novels has been turned into a film – multiple times in some cases – it’s easy to expect that everything would be laid out exactly as you see it on the screen. Laid out. But that’s not the case with the novels – there’s a lot that’s left unsaid in these works, particularly in The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby. This makes the novels an intriguing read: you know what’s happened in the filmed versions (hence my lack of narrative recap here) but the text versions are altogether more wily. You’re left to your own devices, given room to ponder how things have occurred, and exactly how the ramifications might manifest.
While each of these stories make fine films, it’s as short novels that they excel. They’re snappy examples of thrilling cinema for the mind, and worth seeking out… assuming you’re in an op shop in the middle of nowhere.