Always mind your mother. Sometimes this old adage fades as we get older and rebel but not for our geeky, albeit murderous, anti-hero, Norman Bates. He sticks close to his mother, the equally murderous Norma. In Bates Motel’s first season, we saw the closer-than-they-should-be mother and son duo dispose of a body (remember Norma’s killer tendencies? It’s best not to give her knives) and keep local law enforcement from unearthing it. Side plots abounded, as they do in the best shows: Norman flirted with his first sexual encounter (you can guess Norma’s feelings on the matter); Norma cozied up to a sheriff’s deputy, ostensibly to keep tags on the murder investigation (and surely you can guess Norman’s feelings seeing his mother with another man); and Norma’s son from her first marriage, the rebellious Dylan, who has his own body count, turns up unexpectedly. And as Norma says, how is she supposed to deal with all this while trying to get a motel up and running? This past season saw Norman take up an interest in taxidermy (are you really surprised?) and some truly shocking revelations come to light about Dylan’s true parentage. Through all of it, the motel must do business as usual, even with the proposed highway bypass that would divert traffic away from the Bates Motel. Not, of course, if Norma has anything to say about it.
Now that we’ve gripped our armchairs and squeezed our stress balls through 10 nail-biting episodes, the show is on hiatus, but thankfully returning in 2015 for a third season. We’re not sure how we’d cope with all the questions raised by the finale. To get you through the upcoming Bates-free months, here are some book suggestions to read in between watching reruns on A&E.
Psycho by Robert Bloch
This is where it all began. Alfred Hitchcock took his inspiration for the 1960 film of the same name, for which the series serves as a modern-day prequel, from Bloch’s slim, yet supremely unsettling, tale of lonely, middle-aged motel owner Norman Bates and his obsession with lone hotel guest, Marion Crane. Bloch based his tale on the real-life atrocities of killer Ed Gein, who, like Norman, lived a double life: snatching bodies from graveyards (and killing women when he couldn’t get corpses) and fashioning trophies out of their hair and skin while working as a local handyman in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin. Bloch’s novel, while fictional, will surely keep you up at night. If you find yourself awake in the wee hours, may we suggest not going down in the basement?
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
For those of you caught up with Bates, you’ll understand why the specific plight of Cathy and Chris—and how they came into this world—resonates with particular members of the Bates family. Not only is incest fun and provocative (in fiction, of course), the idea of being kept captive in a huge house with your crazy family is very Batesian (we believe this should be a term incorporated into everyday conversation). For those of you who prefer it when your books are actually moving pictures, Flowers was recently made into a Lifetime Original Movie, starring good-girl-turned-rebel Kiernan Shipka as young Cathy from AMC’s Mad Men. However you digest your Flowers, just know it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you were a teenage girl in the 80s, you probably had a copy squirreled away in your bedroom.
Room by Emma Donoghue
Speaking of captivity, nothing is more claustrophobic than Donoghue’s eerie tale of 5-year-old Jack and his Ma. “Close” doesn’t even begin to describe their relationship and living quarters: for all five years of his life, Room is where Jack’s lived, except for the times he’s had to go into the wardrobe when Old Nick comes to visit. Of course, as the only life he’s ever known, Room isn’t too terrible for Jack. But for Ma, it’s the place she’s been kept for seven years. The Bates family knows a little something about keeping people against their will and the supremely unsettling premise will appeal to Norman and Norma fans.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Now, we know that it’s not just Norman Bates that has issues (and that’s putting it mildly). Norma comes with her own 10-piece set of baggage. After all, there’s a reason she ends up the way she does in Psycho. Eva, the maternal (anti-)hero of We Need to Talk About Kevin probably won’t win Mother of the Year but she’s not knifing people to death in the kitchen and then asking her teenage son to help cover up the crime. It’s the titular Kevin who’s the real issue here: he’s perhaps even more lethal than Norman. Shriver is one of the few writers who can tackle a hot-button topic like school shootings with lyrical, clinical grace.