Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Favorite Short Stories: Talent by Robert Bloch

Try thinking of Robert Bloch but not getting "author of Psycho" on the same brainwave.
If you're schooled at all in the classics of the horror genre that's a double bind roughly like "don't think of a pink elephant."

Certainly Psycho is a major jewel in his crown, but its sparkle blinds the eye to many other fabulous works including the humorous Bloch, which I discovered on those Sunday afternoons of my early teens that I devoted to reading scary tales between Sunday dinner and the end of my parents' naps when it was OK to go outside again.

After Horror Times Ten and Gooseflesh, another collection came along, purchased from the paperback rack at the local drug store because the fiery red face of Dracula himself graced the cover. I'd read an interview with Christopher Lee in Monster Times around the same time, so I knew he was a reader of scary tales as well as a star of Hammer Films.

From the Archives of Evil features 10 tales, all introduced with a few paragraphs from Lee, though it is co-edited by Michael Parry. Alas, it is the first of two collections, but I never ran across the second.

In the cauldron
Stirred into that cauldron is Bloch's Talent, a 1960 story about Andrew Benson, a war orphan left on the steps of a Pasadena children’s home. The tale unfolds very matter-of–factly.
What is Andrew’s Talent? He’s a mimic. He can do Groucho Marx, other kids and the villains--always the villains--from Western movies.
Fortunately, the nuns at the orphanage are selective in what they let Andrew watch, so he's not exposed to excessive violence.
Until he's adopted, perhaps because he makes himself resemble the first child of the grieving couple who've come in search of a replacement.

Shapeshifting?
Is Andrew a shapeshifter? Word has it from one childhood friend he had a Jekyll and Hyde quality.
The narrator cannot offer proof of dark deeds on Andrew's part. He can only offer parallels.
Not long after the release of Man in the Attic--featuring Jack Palance as a Jack the Ripper-type--several similar murders occur in Andrew's area.
Then there are werewolf killings in the mid-'50s, roughly the time the Universal horror movies are being revived on television. That's just the start.
"Talent" is a brief masterpiece from Robert Bloch, dark of humor and sly of style with a final line that, like so many of Bloch's, wraps everything up fabulously.
Thomas Montleone once wrote a column listing Bloch among the overrated in the horror genre, postulating that because he was a very nice man he was granted a degree of grace.

I beg to differ. "Talent" is a fine exhibit to refute that contention. A fine example of Bloch's talent.

8 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I have a collection of Bloch's short stories around here somewhere but haven't read them. I'll have to dig it out for a look. One of my favorite stories by him is "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper."

Sidney said...

Talent is also in either Fear and Trembling or Such Stuff as Screams are made Of.

Kate S said...

Good info, Sidney. I've never heard of "Talent" before now I want to read it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I have several collections of Robert Bloch. Funny, I don't link him to "Psycho" as much as I worship him for the give and take he had with H.P. Lovecraft.

Bloch has a wonderful economy of writing. He lacks Bradbury's lyricism but in my opinion makes up for it with his ability to pound at the psyche with what I like to call homeopathic horror.

Steve Malley said...

For me, Bloch will always be a terrifying story about an adulterous couple who meet a grisly end at Christmas.

I think I was like eight at the time.

When I heard about Psycho, the first thing in my head was, "that guy with the Christmas tree! Creepy..."

Sidney said...

That's a good description, Stewart. I can think of some unsettling pieces of his.

Steve, I only read that story right before this past Christmas in "The Twelve Frights of Christmas." It is pretty chilling and has another killer last line.

There's a story of his called "The Romanians," I think that is pretty much made by the last line. A central secret of the tale is apparent but the last line is so cool and tongue in cheek that it makes it all worthwhile.

muebles madrid said...

The chap is completely right, and there's no skepticism.

Anonymous said...

Monteleone is an extremely overrated author. 'Nuff said

Also, some of Bloch's stories are superb. I like The Unspeakable Betrothal best, but House of the Hatchet, Enoch or I Kiss Your Shadow are remarkable.

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