Friday, October 21, 2016

Guest Post, Question & Horror List Book Review: Psycho

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 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)
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)
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.


Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I've never read Psycho - the movie is too much in my brain, I think. I don't recall reading anything by Bloch.

Andrew Leon said...

IT's probably not going to make my reading list cut.

Chrys Fey said...

I've never read Psycho, but I think the sexism would've bothered me a lot.

Mark said...

Interesting review on an old favorite. Psycho seems to be a mix of intrigue and something repellent all at once.

dolorah said...

I do think about what my characters eat. I use it to enhance their character traits. What you eat, and how you eat it, can say a lot about your personality and habits. Not that I spend a lot of time putting food in my character's mouths . . .

I haven't read the book; seen the movie too often. I find it interesting that the shower scene was so scary at the time of filming; but it seems nearly all horror movies since have had at least one shower scene in them. Thrillers are my favorites because they delve so thoroughly into the psyche of a killer.

mshatch said...

I do sometimes show what my characters are eating; it's a good way to involve all the senses and show what sort of people they are, ie, meals or fast food? Long prep or microwave?

I have never seen Psycho or read the book.

Pat Hatt said...

I've seen the movie but never read the book. The guy next door can make for a good psycho indeed.

cleemckenzie said...

I never did read Psycho. I think I was so traumatized by the movie and it's still so vivid in my mind that I never even considered the more intimate experience of reading the story.

As to food, yes. I think food's a great character development tool. Good question.

cleemckenzie said...

I never did read Psycho. I think I was so traumatized by the movie and it's still so vivid in my mind that I never even considered the more intimate experience of reading the story.

As to food, yes. I think food's a great character development tool. Good question.

D.G. Hudson said...

I like Octavia Butler - I've read a few of her books. As for Psycho - it's a classic, like the old Frankenstein. I saw the house used for the original Psycho when the daughters and I took in Universal Studios years ago. Very neat seeing the location for the movie before the Flash Flood rolled over the floor of our travel bus. . .(ah, movie stuff. . .)

Shannon Lawrence said...

It's always rough to read something after you've seen the movie (and vice versa.) My husband's so used to me going on about the differences, but it can't be helped.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Eventually, I'll hit more good ones to list.

Shannon Lawrence said...

It was pretty in-your-face.

Shannon Lawrence said...

It is, and it does a good job of it.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Do you watch Supernatural? I think the hunger/gluttony Dean shows very much enhances and embraces his character.

I do enjoy a thriller. The shower is a vulnerable place, so I can see why it really captured people.

Shannon Lawrence said...

True. Showing someone who eats fast food or microwave dinners tells you something about their character. As does showing someone who lovingly cooks every meal or who only dines out at fine dining restaurants, etc.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Every psycho lives next door to someone, right?

Shannon Lawrence said...

I'm not sure I would have if I weren't reading through this list.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I've always remembered going there as a kid and seeing Jaws and the Psycho house.

I enjoyed Octavia Butler, too, though I wouldn't classify the book as horror.