Two things before we hop into the review of Psycho:
1. I'm a guest over at Shelley Workinger's But What Are They Eating? My story, "The Blue Mist," from The Deep Dark Woods, is featured. Come say hi!
2. I'm looking for recommendations of non-western (American or European) toned authors in speculative fiction. Anybody have some?
I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Psycho, by Robert Bloch.
This is going to be a brief review, because it's incredibly hard to review something I was so familiar with already, having seen the film based on the book about a billion times before reading it.
It could have been better written, but I suspect it was an early book for Bloch. I imagine it was a shocking piece of fiction when it came out. Norman Bates is a slow reveal. At first, he's an overweight noodge (that's not a real word, but I think you know what I'm saying). Shy, quiet, tentative. He fully believes he's cleaning up after his mom when a woman is murdered at the hotel. He gets rid of the evidence and takes action against his mother.
We bounce around through multiple points of view, from Norman to the woman soon to be murdered, to the woman's boyfriend, etc. Bloch explores their various ways of thinking, why they make the decisions they do, and their insecurities and insanities. The reader gets far more insight into why things go the way they do, as well as into what happened to his mother, than in the movie.
I was warned before I read the book about the sexism. At first, I thought the warning was inaccurate, thinking that since we were seeing it from the viewpoint of Norman, it was just part of the character (Norman has mega-issues with women courtesy of his mother.) However, the original victim has a sister, and she is the most inane, dull, stupid character. She does everything the men tell her to do, including not reporting her sister missing, all while wringing her hands and asking the men what should be done. She is dismissed repeatedly, and even interrupted...in writing! Repeatedly! ACK!
Moving on from there, this book has the suspense you would expect from it, and it delves into the mental issues of all the characters, not just the murderer. It's a worthwhile read and a quick one. Don't expect to be surprised if you've seen the movie, though. Both do the story justice in their own way, but the story lines are close.
There will always be something frightening about the plain guy next door being psychotic, twisted, and dangerous. The more unassuming, the more frightening. This is captured in Psycho.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
9. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
10. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
11. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
12. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
13. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
14. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
15. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
16. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
17. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
18. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
19. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
20. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
21. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
22. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
23. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
24. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
25. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
26. World War Z (Max Brooks)
27. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
28. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
29. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
30. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
31. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
32. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
33. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
34. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)
The next book I'll be reviewing is Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler.
Do you think about what your characters would eat? Is food an instrumental part of your books? Did you stop by and say hi? Do you have any recommendations for non-western voices? Have you read Psycho? Seen the movie? Have you read anything else by Bloch? What did you think? Anything you'd recommend?
May you find your Muse.