Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Brood

As I said last week, one of the things I found really interesting about Psycho was that the first real, solid info we get comes from a very reliable source: the sheriff. We believe it. It's later refuted by an unreliable narrator. We don't believe Norman's version of events, but we understand that the Sheriff is wrong. At the end, we again get clear, concise, factual information from a psychologist, related from Sam to Lila.

In "The Brood," we again have a family history which plays an important role in both the development of the characters and the current storyline. We want to know how Nola got this way, how Candy got this way, how it all comes together.

Basically, we want it to make sense. In Psycho, Bloch gives us little tiny snippets of information at a time, and anything given in clear, factual terms is then refuted (even, really, the final psychiatric info by "mother" deciding to sit perfectly still).

About The Brood, Beard writes, "The family histories of Juliana, Barton, and little Nola, and of Nola, Frank, and little Candice are suggested by fragments of testimony and evidence rather than being presented in clear, factual terms, and in this way attain an aesthetically fruitful ambiguity and complexity" (pg. 74).

It makes me wonder how different The Brood would have been, had someone, say the police psychologist, sat down and explained in clear and factual terms what was happening at Somorfree. Would that have cleared up the situation? Would the information have been refuted by Raglan or Nola and only served to confuse us further? We do have a psychiatrist in The Brood, but Raglan is clearly unreliable, as he's only in this for his own gain, rather than any empathy for his patients.

Beard also writes, "The ambiguity of the situation is entirely appropriate to the tangled emotional underbrush of the family and relationships" (pg. 74). I have to agree. The fact that the primary questions about the family are never answered (I can only assume purposely) adds to the overall horror of the story, and the tangled relationships of the family, the backdrop against which the whole story takes place.

Would Nola have been more empathic if we were told, yes, in fact, Juliana abused her and did horrible things to her? Probably not. Would it have taken away from the story to have all our questions answered and tied up in a little bow? Probably.

Unless, of course, Cronenberg did something similar to Psycho, where the clear, factual information was thrown into ambiguity just as much as the information coming from a knowingly unreliable narrator (Juliana or Nola).

In the chat last week, someone wondered why Hitchcock kept the Sheriff's role in the movie. He was barely in the movie, all this other scenes had been removed. Yet he still got the "big reveal" and someone wondered if it wouldn't have been better being saved till the end or revealed by Norman himself.

I have no idea what prompted Hitchcock's decision to keep the Sheriff, but personally, I'm glad he did. I liked the give and take between reliable and unreliable information, and how much that kept me guessing.

However, the clean-cut "explanation" at the end, by a psychiatrist, to explain Norman's behavior and history would have been out of place in a movie like The Brood, I think. Without any explanation, we get the sense, as Beard writes, that "suffering and loss are everywhere and...there is no prospect of relief -- in the past, in the present, in the future."

As primarily a romance writer/reader, I'm usually a stickler for happy endings, but this one works for me. And I think any explanation or clear facts would have ruined the effect.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

suspense building in Psycho

One of the things I loved best about Psycho was how carefully and slowly Bloch revealed key points. How we not only received little hints, all the way through, about Mrs. Bates and her role, but those hints built on each other. Each new hint or mention revealed just a smidge more information than the hint before it. And at no point did he simply re-hash information we already had.

The first hint about Mrs. Bates and Joe Considine comes on page 117. It's the first time Considine is mentioned, and Norman is thinking about appearance. He then reflects, "Oh no it wouldn't! Because Uncle Joe was dead...Funny how it had slipped his mind."

Considine's name doesn't come up again until page 161, when we find out just a touch more about his death, this time that Considine and Mrs. Bates together committed suicide. Interestingly, this revelation doesn't come from Norman, but from the Sheriff. At this point, we're pretty sure Norman is an unreliable narrator, so it's kind of an, "Oh, okay," moment for the reader. Here we have a reliable (or at least more reliable than Normal) character giving us information in a factual matter. We can believe it. We think we've caught up.

The next hint builds directly on this, on page 172, because it instantly reputes the Sheriff. The information we assumed was reliable is suddenly unreliable when we go back to Norman's POV, when Bloch writes, "Norman had fooled the Sheriff the first time, when everything had been much harder. This time it should be even easier, if he remembered to be calm." And on the next page, "How he'd fooled the the first time! And yes, he fooled them just as easily again...."

The intersting thing about that hint was that we don't yet know what the truth was. We only know that what we thought was true (the Sheriff's POV) is no longer true.

It's not until page 190-191, that Normal tells Sam that they drank the poison together and that he was, "...in the hospital a long time. Almost too long to do any good when I got out. But I managed."

At this point, the information once again matches up with the Sheriff's account, but Norman is so unreliable a narrator by now that we know there's something else going on, and the sentence of "almost too long to do any good" gives us a great hint of what actually happened.

And then finally, on page 208, we realize Mrs. Bates is a corpse and he killed both Considine and Mrs. Bates.

I think Bloch's style here, the way built on previous hints, and especially the way he refuted information from a reliable narrator with an unreliable narrator, really lent to the suspense of the book. Especially the psychological suspense of figuring out what was happening with Norman's mother.