Psycho: A Novel -Robert Bloch

I recently read this novel for a class I have at Seton Hill University.  I came into it knowing the basics of the story.  I knew the truth about Norman Bates and had only seen the shower scene from the movie.  So, the end was spoiled for me.  But, honestly, how many people didn’t know what happens in this story?
I was disappointed that there wasn’t more content on Bates.  But, for a short novel it did well.  I’m intrigued on the grief aspect that drove Bates to continue to act as though his mother was alive.  It’s just such a wonderful blend of what can happen mentally in a person to deal with situations in their life.

Last night, my wife and I were talking about the Life of Pi.  She hasn’t read it but saw that it’s going to be a movie soon and asked about the premise.  This is another example of what the mind can do in a person to help them deal with their experiences.  I’m still inclined to believe that the boy in Life of Pi really was on the boat with a tiger.   (SPOILER WARNING) But, it is suggested that he was actually on a lifeboat with a man who engaged in cannibalism and how the character chose to deal with that situation.  Again, while I believe in the literal experiences of the character it is intriguing that the medical professionals at the end of the book could see the possibility of him creating a different situation to make what he experienced more acceptable.
So I compare Bates and Pi together and I’m even more fascinated about the human mind and potential.  Bates didn’t like who his mother was dating so he killed them and then blocked that event from his memory and believed that his mother was still alive.  Even if the character in Pi wasn’t really with a tiger, zebra, and baboon, he interpreted the other people as the animals as a defensive mechanism to deal with cannibalism in the man he associates as the tiger.  All I can say is wow.  Both characters were young when they faced these situations.  But one was faced with life or death and managed to survive without losing his humanity while the other (Bates) just didn’t like who his mother was dating and clearly went off his rocker by killing numerous people.

What is it that really drives someone to that point?  You get the feeling that Bates was very sheltered.  His mother never liked what he read and he seems to only have able to read what he wanted after he had killed his mother. Yet, even sheltered, he was able to carry out murder.  The kid in Pi lived in a zoo.  He saw nature in a somewhat raw form.  He watched the tiger kill and eat the zebra and baboon.  But, having grown up around animals who kill for their food and all the potential disturbing images that would result, he didn’t go insane.

Ultimately, that is what intrigues me the most about killers in reality and fiction.  How can two individuals go through traumatic events and one comes out “normal” but the other becomes a killer?  It’s something I think about a lot as I create my own villains.  What do I need to put them through to become the villain I need them to be?  What do they have to experience to become a thief, killer, etc?  There are so many variables that influence our decisions.  That is what makes writing villains so fun and such a headache at the same time.

5 thoughts on “Psycho: A Novel -Robert Bloch”

  1. Although Bates was very sheltered, the book points out that he was abused, too. I’m not sure how the mind works fully, but when his mother hits him with a brush, something rattles loose in Bates’ mind. I know children will often mimic how they were raised (abuse breeds abusers), but readers have to wonder if Bates would have been a murderer if his mother hadn’t fragmented his mind with that brush.

    Your thoughts on individual psyche are interesting. Characters are often thought of in physical terms and in terms of their reactions, but stories get awesome when they really dive into the complexity of how each individual mind works. An example of this that most are familiar with is The Shining. The book dives into a man’s mind who loves his family but is weakened by his desire for alcohol. His character fits the story well, but another character might not be as desiring of alcohol or another might not love his family as much, which would suck the tension right out of the tale. When writing, we need to not only brainstorm the history of our characters, but really dive into their minds, too, and figure out why they’d be a murderer when someone else wouldn’t.

    Another example of this concept you’ve brought up might be summed up in a line from the movie Capote. He elaborates on his fascination with a murderer and how we all handle events differently; he says, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

  2. Thank you for bringing this full circle to your own writing and how this book has or will influence you. I agree with your sentiments in that we do need to look at what drives people to make the bizarre choices they make. In real life we don’t always get a short summary of what drives people to kill, especially psychos and serial killers, and often the fact that they were abused as children isn’t enough of a reason to make them kill multiple people and possibly ingest their remains. Lots of people have terrible childhoods and never end up collecting human body parts as trophies from their kills.

    This is my favorite part of your blog post:

    ” It’s something I think about a lot as I create my own villains. What do I need to put them through to become the villain I need them to be? What do they have to experience to become a thief, killer, etc?”

    You have given me something to think about as I create my villains, too.

  3. Your questions in your post are the same that behaviorists, psychoanalysts and criminal justice experts have been trying to answer for a long time. In your comparisons I was reminded of the film, “A Clockwork Orange,” where the goal was to change a criminal/killer into a docile member of society. I won’t spoil it for others (wink) but the human psyche is very complex. Just when we think we’ve got it nailed down, something else rises up and surprises us.

  4. I thought it was interesting as well how Bates was portrayed in the novel. I’m not sure I buy into it totally – some part of me kept thinking that he really knew what he was doing – but it was still a good read. Interesting comparison between the two stories. It’s amazing how the human mind deals with trauma.

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