Friday, February 13, 2015

Some of Your Blood: Review

Anthony Boucher says (on the front cover of my edition): "...his first straight crime novel. Plausible and of the season's most absorbing."

I hate to disagree with Anthony Boucher, but a straight crime novel is not how I would describe Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood. Is there crime in it? Sure--although you won't really know it until the end. But there is nothing "straight" about this twisted story of the sociopathic psyche of "George Smith." This book really lives in that borderland of psychological horror.

Told in epistolary fashion--through letters between two Army psychiatrists, the written life story of "George," and written reports of testing and sessions with this troubled man--Some of Your Blood reveals the disturbing story of a young man raised in a rural community. The son of the town drunk, George receives little education and less affection at home. He must survive days without food and he seeks solace in the woods in order to escape the beatings that will come whenever his father is drunk. During his time in the woods, he teaches himself to hunt all sorts of animals. When he's older, he resorts to stealing food from a local store (with a conveniently easy to open basement door) to make sure they have something to eat. But it isn't long before he's caught and sent to a troubled children's home--more like an orphanage than a prison.

Amazingly enough, George enjoys his time in the children's home--he has a clean bed, a small space to call his own, three meals a day, and instructors who care enough to fill in his spotty education. When both his mother and father die, his aunt (his mother's sister) comes to ask him to live with her and his uncle. He has some difficulties with his uncle and once again takes to the woods and hunting and one day he meets Anna, an equally unloved and lonely neighbor. They become close and he eventually makes her pregnant....and he decides to enlist in the Army. With its regulated ways, the Army makes him feel as safe as he did at the children's home. Until the day he has to help unload a plane of wounded and dying soldiers. He can't run to the woods this time. So, instead, he writes a letter to Anna which upsets the censors when they get hold of it. The censors give it to his commanding officer, who in turn questions George about it. He attacks the man and is sent home to a psychiatric hospital....that's where our story begins and ends.

Phil Outerbridge, the doctor in charge of his case, asks George to write out his life story. The details George gives him makes Dr. Phil sure that there is an underlying secret that has driven George's behavior. The rest of the book is spent in the doctor's efforts to discover the secret and to decide  how best to treat his patient.

This is a very shocking, very disturbing novel. There is one portion of the Boucher quote that I agree with--this is a very plausible story of a damaged man. It is all too easy to imagine the circumstances which could have resulted in this man and his story. It doesn't stretch the imagination too much to understand how a man who grew up in the environment presented us could have behaved in the ways in which George did. The lack of real human contact and the lack of love and compassion can be very damaging, and it certainly has damaged George Smith.

The book ends with the narrator turning to us, the readers, and asking us how we would like it end. Shall we end it compassionately--allowing George to receive successful treatment and be sent home to find some happiness with his Anna? Or is George's condition too far gone and the treatment will fail? Sturgeon makes us confront (within ourselves and through our power to choose George's fate) the very issues that have laid the foundation of George's psyche.  ★★and a half (rounded to four on Goodreads).


Anonymous said...

Great review of a difficult novel Bev - I remain highly impressed by it and that fact that it retains some of its shock value after so long speaks to its ability to tap into something truly primal

fredamans said...

I love disturbing, I just wonder from your review if this is the wrong kind of disturbing I look for.
Great review!