Psycho by Robert Bloch

I devoured the first season of Bates Motel in two days, but it left me feeling guilty. I had never seen Psycho, and, to my horror, the film was based on a book that I didn’t even know existed. I finished the book faster than I made it through the show, and while I still haven’t seen the Hitchcock classic, the barely-mentioned novel deserves more recognition.

Mary is a young woman anxious to get her life started, but her fiancé refuses to get married until he has paid off his rather extensive debt. The answer to all of Mary’s problems suddenly presents itself in the form of a $40,000.00 deposit that her boss asks her to make. In an uncharacteristic move, Mary takes the money and high-tails it out of there. She plans on making the lengthy drive to her fiancé so that she can surprise him with the cash. Before Mary can finish the trip, however, the rainy weather makes it impossible to finish the drive. But that’s okay, as Mary has found a motel. It’s a little isolated, and the man at the front desk seems a little off, but it will be fine. It’s just for one night.

Prior to reading Psycho, my only knowledge of Norman Bates was as a knife-wielding, cross-dressing murderer. These things are true, but Psycho has a lot more psychological depth than I had anticipated. Norman’s relationship with his mother is never entirely fleshed out, but this vagueness makes the possibilities all the more disturbing. Norman mentions the Oedipus Complex in an early conversation with Mother, but she flatly refuses to discuss that issue. Ickk.

Norman himself is just bothersome. Unable to stand up to his mother, he is a forty-something year old man who has never left home. He is described as chubby and clammy, easily flustered, and something of a peeping tom. He’s just plain gross, and Bloch’s descriptions effortless generate a visceral reaction in the reader. At the same time, one cannot help but feel sympathy for this pathetic man.

What really impressed me about the novel was that in spite of my, albeit, limited knowledge of the plot, I was still completely shocked by the revelations regarding Norma. The novel was written in 1959, yet it maintains the ability to deeply disturb the reader. Easily finished in one sitting, Psycho  is a completely satisfying read. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary to read in order to appreciate Bates Motel, but it certainly adds a lot of depth and clarity to the series.

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