Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bad-ass classic

In 1954, a book was published that would take the publishing and reading world by storm. A book written by William March, who, despite having written other works of fiction, would always be known simply as the writer of this suspense novel. A novel that would be nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction, a rare feat considering the genre. A book that would inspire a Broadway play and countless Hollywood movies about murderous children. A book that would spark an endless debate about people's personalities. That book is The Bad Seed, which has been reprinted recently, much to reader delight.

So who is the bad seed in this novel? It's one eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark. By all appearances, Rhoda is all sugar and spice, complete with those dainty sundresses, cute pigtails, and adorable maryjanes. But it's all a veneer of course, for Rhoda manages to kill a boy of her own age simply because he bested her in a school computation. Also, she exacts revenge on a gardener who has somehow seen her for who she really is. There are other acts attributed to Rhoda in her earlier years, but March leaves it to the reader to decide. One thing is certain though -- Rhoda is "the" bad seed and she will continue to be one as she grows older.

One of the themes of The Bad Seed is that genetics plays a part in molding our personalities. March makes it evident that Rhoda, even with her doting mother, was predisposed to evil. (Later in the novel it will be revealed that Rhoda's grandmother had a similar streak.) Yes, Rhoda's father was always absent, but that's irrelevant: Rhoda is evil because evil is in her genes.

It is at this point that the reader may ponder on the question of nature vs. nurture. Can people do anything if a negative personality trait runs in their veins? I sure hope so. Still, it's a chilling thought -- being predisposed to do sinister acts. You never know if you'll wake up one day with the urge to repeatedly stab that pesky neighbor for playing Air Supply loudly in the middle of the night. Or push that officemate down the stairs for getting a paperclip from your desk without asking.

Despite being published in 1954, The Bad Seed still gave me the chills after reading it. And the ending was so unexpected that it gave me goosebumps. March's writing is as fresh and detailed even after more than 50 years. It's one of my most enjoyable reads for this year. In Rhoda Penmark, March has created an iconic character that we would all be afraid of.

Patty McCormack, the girl who played Rhoda, in the 1956 Oscar-nominated movie
People mentioned that it was she that should have been nominated instead of the actress who played her mother.

Read this book if:
  1. You have no doubts that children can be evil.
  2. You like classic suspense novels.
  3. You think that you just might be a bad seed yourself.

14 comments:

Stepford Mum said...

I'm not sure I want to read this - the cover alone looks freaky enough! Why are the scariest children always blond? Children of the corn, anyone?

Peter S. said...

Hello, Stepford Mum! Hmmmm... I didn't notice that thing about scary children and their being blond(e). Maybe the personality trait goes with the corn-colored hair?

mental wayfarer said...

I should have been born blonde.:P

Peter S. said...

Let's all dye our hair in that color then!

Tracie said...

I had rented the first movie that was based off this book. I took me awhile to go to sleep that night. Kept dreaming about the little girl who protrayed Rhoda....I still get goosebumps thinking about it! I haven't read the book because, well, I am a little fearfull of how much sleep I will loose....Then again I never had a problem sleeping when I read Misery or IT by Stephen King.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Tracie! I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm curious about it. I think it's very creepy, much like the book!

Jenny said...

I've actually never heard of this, lol! But it sounds incredibly creepy... and considering I'm a therapist and I have some child clients.. yeah totally creepy. But still, maybe I'll read this one day because I'm drawn to it like with horror movies. Reminds me of this creepy little girl from a Lifetime movie I've seen a bunch of times, lol.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jenny! Considering your line of work, yes, totally creepy!

stokedbunny said...

seems like something I would read while I still don't have children. :) I want to also watch the film.

Peter S. said...

LOL! Yes, that sounds good, stokedbunny.

aloi said...

holy moly -- look at her eyes. sounds like a "chuckie" book to me :)

Ryan said...

I love the moive, but have not read the book yet. I think I need to correct that soon.

Speaking of blong children, remember Village of the Damned, they were all blond. So was Gage from Pet Cemetary

One non blond evil kid is Damian

Peter S. said...

@aloi: I love Chuckie! Hehehe.

@Ryan: I want to watch The Village of the Damned! I think it was based on a Wyndham novel.

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