Robert Bloch began his writing career at the age of seventeen when he sold his first short story to Weird Tales magazine. His early crime novels The Scarf (1947) and The Kidnapper (1954) reflect his fascination with psychology and psychopathic behavior. Bloch was quite prolific and published Spiderweb and The Will to Kill, in addition to The Kidnapper, in 1954. He later revised The Scarf to tighten the ending and eliminate any sympathy the reader might have felt for the main character, a psychopathic killer. Although Bloch’s efforts at the early stages of his professional career cannot be called uninteresting, they are flawed by a certain amount of overwriting that serves to dilute the full impact of the situation at hand.
In 1959, Bloch published Psycho, the compelling tale of Norman Bates, the owner of the Bates Motel. In his novel, Bloch brings together all the terrifying elements that have been present in his earlier works. Bates, like many of Bloch’s past and future characters, is an apparently normal human being. The citizens of Fairvale think he is a little odd, but they attribute this to the fact that he found the bodies of his mother and “Uncle” Joe after they died from strychnine poisoning.
Psycho has become the model for psychological fiction. The character of Norman has also become a model because he appears to be so normal. In fact, until near the end of the novel, the reader does not know that Mrs. Bates is not, in fact, alive. The part of Norman’s personality that is still a small boy holds conversations with Mrs. Bates that are so realistic that the reader is completely unaware of the split in Norman’s personality. The horror the reader feels when the truth is discovered causes the reader to rethink all previous events in the novel.
One of the most successful scenes in Psycho occurs when the detective Milton Arbogast goes to the house to speak with Mrs. Bates. Norman attempts to persuade his “mother” not to see the detective. Bloch writes:“Mother, please, listen to me!” But she didn’t listen, she was in the bathroom, she was getting dressed, she was putting on make-up, she was getting ready. Getting ready. And all at once she came gliding out, wearing the nice dress with the ruffles. Her face was freshly powdered and rouged, she was pretty as a picture, and she smiled as she started down the stairs. Before she was halfway down, the knocking came. It was happening, Mr. Arbogast was here; he wanted to call out and warn him, but something was stuck in his throat. He could only listen as Mother cried gaily, “I’m coming! I’m coming! Just a moment, now!” And it was just a moment. Mother opened the door and Mr. Arbogast walked in. He looked at her and then he opened his mouth to say something. As he did so he raised his head, and that was all Mother had been waiting for. Her arm went out and something bright and glittering flashed back and forth, back and forth— It hurt...
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