What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William march’s classic thriller. … The spine-tingling tale of little Rhoda Penmark had a tremendous impact on the thriller genre and generated a whole perdurable crop of creepy kids. Today, The Bad Seed remains a masterpiece of suspense that’s as chilling, intelligent, and timely as ever before.
(synopsis via Goodreads)
The idea behind George March’s The Bad Seed was, in its time, sensational. Murderous, psychopathic children? In 1954, it was a relatively novel idea for a novel. Since then we’ve had The Omen, The Good Son, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, to name a few. But even though it’s not necessarily a new idea for readers today, The Bad Seed still makes for a thrilling read.
Having recently seen both The Good Son and We Need to Talk About Kevin, which take place in contemporary (or close to contemporary) times, I enjoyed reading a story that took place in the ’50s. But all three of the stories were, surprisingly, very much alike: someone (most often the mother) knows what the child is, knows that the child is capable of committing (and has committed) terrible, violent crimes. Unfortunately, no one else believes it, because the kid puts on an act for everyone but this one person. Arghh, infuriating!
In The Bad Seed, Rhoda’s mother witnesses her daughter murdering people for purely selfish reasons. She doesn’t have a word for what Rhoda is; she just knows Rhoda has no conscience, compassion or empathy. Yet she cannot turn Rhoda in to the authorities. She can’t bear to see her daughter taken away to be imprisoned within “an institution.” And she is tormented, knowing that she has passed on “the bad seed” to her daughter, despite that fact that she herself is not violent. She wants to do the right thing, but in the end, she makes the only decision that she is strong enough to make.
Each of the three stories I mentioned end very differently, which pleases me. It’s like real life—there are so many possible outcomes to this situation. What will the child do? Will (s)he eventually be caught? Arrested? Will her crimes and antisocial behavior continue to escalate? Will she be “ratted out” by her own family? It’s a chilling thing to think about: the fear of one’s own child. It makes me wonder—if I was Rhoda’s mother, what would I have done?