I was first introduced to Psycho the movie when I was a junior in high school. I took a film class and, naturally, Psycho was a must-see. Now, I suppose in my “millennial” mindset I immediately thought, “Ugh, black and white, boooring.”
Needless to say I was wrong.
By the end of the movie I was afraid to go into my basement alone. Even now, five years later, I still can’t help but get that image of Anthony Perkins jumping into the scene–wig and all–bearing a knife out of my head when I have to go down the basement at night.
I hadn’t known at the time that Psycho was a book first, but after some incessant researching–as one usually does with generally creepy things–I found the book, and two movie sequels (though I haven’t, and don’t think I will, watched those.) I am, however, glad to have read the book. My thesis novel, though not horror, is a psychological thriller and I’ve been feeling I need to amp up the scare and tangible suspense factors. Psycho served as a pretty good novel to emulate.
I’ll be the first to say that even though I read about Mary’s death, read how Norman buried her car and body, and read about all the blood, when Sam and Lila were coming up with ideas about what might have happened to her, I started to second guess what I had witnessed inside my own mind. I mean, I’d seen the movie, I knew how this ended, but I still heard that tiny little voice in the back of my head say, “What if she’s actually alive?” I felt that Bloch created that suspense fabulously. We were shown the answer from the very beginning: It was Norma(n) in the shower with the butcher knife. But, that then begs the question: who is this story about? Mary dies within the first few chapters so, here, her murder isn’t the main mystery, but it’s what Norman is hiding. Norman is so obviously the main character, not Mary. Hence the title, Psycho. We were trying to figure out who the “psycho” was, not who killed Mary.
Another aspect I thought Bloch did well was making Norman a sympathetic character. Personally, I very rarely feel badly for the villain/murderer, and in this case, I didn’t really feel that bad for Norman’s mother, but I did feel bad for him. Right in chapter 9 he says, “Murder was a terrible thing. Even if you’re not quite right in the head, you can realize that much.” I mean, remorse and empathy are the things we always hear sociopaths and psychopaths lack. So, going one step further, I may theorize that Norman wasn’t even the real antagonist at all, it was his mother. After all, she raised him to believe he was a bad son, that he was stupid or incompetent. She brought another man into their lives and promptly left Norman by the wayside. Was Norman right to murder her and Joe Considine? Certainly not, but I don’t think that necessarily makes him the ultimate villain.
The number one thing I want to take away from Bloch’s Psycho is how, even after finishing the book, he has kept me thinking about the plot and formulating new theories. Usually a good book–and not just a well-written book, but a book that really jabs me where it hurts–lingers around and I can’t stop thinking about it. A good book should leave me not knowing how I feel. Because if an author gets to that part of me and confuses, angers, frustrates, and amazes me, then it’s more than a book. It’s an adventure.