Billed as a horror novel it’s more of a psychological study of a man who has an affliction that would be over the top in an average horror story. In the hands of Sturgeon this is a subtle account via army psychiatrist Dr.Philip Outerbridge about a patient named Bela but he calls himself George Smith.
Smith slugged a Major because of something in a letter that set him off. He writes his autobiography that starts when he’s a four year old in the mountain country of Kentucky. He has an abusive, drunken father and a arthritic mother. He likes to go off into the woods and hone his hunting skills.
When he becomes a teenager he steals groceries and other items from store in their small town. One night he can’t take his fathers’ abusing his mother and throws a knife at him and it lands in his chest. His father pulled it out and tells him he just may make something of himself afterall. He also gets a girlfriend who is older than him. One night he gets caught stealing and is sent to a state school that is also an orphanage.
George doesn’t say much and because he’s bigger than most of the other kids he’s left alone. After two years an aunt takes him home to their small farm. His Uncle Jim is a lot smaller than George but that doesn’t stop him from attacking him after a slapstick encounter with a skunk that was George’s fault. Having had enough, George joins the Army and loves it.
The book has a lot of sections where Dr.Outbridge questions him, gives him the ink blot test and other methods of trying to find out what set him off to hit the Major. Outbridge’s superior officer and friend wants George out for the space but Outbridge thinks he’s on to something. Slowly but surely he finds out Smith’s secret.
You will not find the horror staples of ghosts, witchcraft etc. The short book manages to draw you in and shows how subtle writing can have a big impact. Maybe there wasn’t a category of psychological fiction when this was written and that’s why it’s classified as horror or possibly because of Sturgeon’s reputation and one of the best SF writers it was listed as such to market it. There’s also a sense of humor in letters exchanged by Outbridge and his CO.
It’s worth checking out but don’t expect a lot of blood and gore on every other page.