Monday, August 27, 2012

Psycho by Robert Bloch

So does Norman Bates work better as an effeminate, boyishly handsome young man or as a baby faced, portly, forgettable mama's boy?

That's the big difference, innit? The storyline is basically the same. The structure is a bit different, too. Instead of starting with poor doomed Marion Crane and her lover, we crawl right into Norman Bates' life. Reading it, I kinda wonder how many of the original readers figured out what the big twist ending was. You can do a lot of tricks with visuals that you can't do with the written word and it's pretty obvious that Norman is shadowboxing in empty rooms.

Then again, I came to Psycho, both the film and the novel, knowing all the twists and turns. It feels like a fairy tale someone told me when I was really young and remained imprinted on my psyche. Reading it was still very rewarding. When you watch the movie version of a story, it's like you're observing it in real life. You can see the visuals, pick up the non-verbal cues, and interact with a story as a passive observer in the characters' lives. Reading the book lets you climb into people's heads. What you lose in "objective" visual clarity, you gain in intimacy.

Having climbed directly into Norman Bates' head, I gotta say it's a pretty fucked up place.

It's hard to feel sympathy for him, in that mama's boys seldom elicit sympathy in this culture. I feel a bit of pity for him, though it's easier to pity Anthony Perkins' version than the novel's version, if for no other reason than the superficial. The Norman I imagine from the book is shlubby and unappealing. People who encounter him seem to think he's harmless, but the way he carries himself and the stuff he says would set off my creeper alarm. Maybe the late fifties/early sixties were a more innocent charms, but I buy the version of Marion Crane from the movie, sitting in the parlor with Norman and being frightened by the things he tells her.

Blah blah Ed Gein blah blah Texas Chainsaw Massacre blah blah.

The big thing I took away from this book is the idea that no one really understands themselves or the people around them. Norman Bates really believes that he's covering up for his demented mother, Sam Loomis is shocked that the woman he was considering marrying could have stolen $40,000, and Lila Crane has to come to terms with a sister she barely knew. It's an idea that has some resonance with me these days.

I don't really have much to say beyond the fact that Norman Bates is the ur-psycho of pop culture. His weakness, his vulnerability, his dementia, and his mother issues have become what people think of whenever people use the word "psycho." No other madman has captured the public imagination the way that Bates has.

At least not until Hannibal Lecter came along.    


Christopher Shearer said...

I expected you to go off on the sexual relationships. You've surprised me.

Creature said...

It was tempting, but I gotta do a lot of these. Suffice to say, Norman's a misogynist creep with a weird mother/son dynamic.

R. D. DeMoss said...

I thought the chubby, book version of Norman fit more. Maybe his description was stereotypical for a pervert, but the creepiness of him being an overgrown man-boy worked for me. The youthful-looking movie version came across as more demonic, which was creepy in its own way but less fitting. I rewatched a few parts of the movie after reading the book and had forgotten just how good looking Norman was portrayed as. Interesting, bold and creative deviation that was.

Michelle R. Lane said...

Joe, I look forward to reading future posts that deal with the sexual themes of these novels. Perhaps the connection between sex and death seems juvenile at times, but it's an old story we're all familiar with, and it is rooted deep in our subconscious musings (or maybe I'm just a pervert).

I had similar thoughts about seeing the film and recognizing it as staple of modern pop culture before I ever read the book. Reading the book was like visiting someone you've heard stories about but never met. Getting the details directly from them made the tales a bit more interesting and authentic.

I love the film, the 1960s version, not the remake with Vince Vaugh, but now I'm glad I read the novel. I think it actually enhanced my appreciation of the film.

C. R. Langille said...

I tried to go into this with a fresh mind as well and see if the secret-twist was blended good enough in the story. It's hard to say because I already knew what was going to happen. Regardless of that fact, I think it still holds up as a classic.

Dwight Jolivette said...

If only there were bunnies in the story, right?

Again I ask,am I the only one to notice the book essentially begins with it was a dark and stormy night?

Not being a Bloch follower, I wonder if it's possible to over think what's going on as subtext. Everything about the sex and symbolism may be intended, but it may also simply be by-product and reader transference. How often have any of our writings had a deeper meaning for readers we never intended. We were just writing an interesting story. I wonder?

Will Errickson said...

I read PSYCHO recently and it was difficult to *not* think of Hitchcock's film. While he and the screenwriter followed almost all of the novel's structure, except for the opening that you note and Norman's basic character, I think those are *huge* changes that make the film work. Had Norman been the fat, pathetic, drunken mama's boy he is in the novel, there would've been no sympathy for him from movie audiences. Bloch is a horror/suspense giant, but I feel Hitch's movie is a classic in a way Bloch's novel just... quite... isn't. Compare, say, Levin's ROSEMARY'S BABY, which Polanski adapted virtually word for word, page by page.