Title: Burnt Offerings
Writer: Robert Marasco
Publishing House: Valancourt Books
Date of Publication: March 17th 2015 (first published 1973)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Drive by the house you’re interested in at night, I say. Watch the windows. See if anybody’s watching for you there. And then drive home with the dome light on, and check that back seat as often as you can.
It won’t be often enough.’’
Stephen Graham Jones
I will readily admit that one of the things that bring me to the highest levels of anxiety is visiting a house I’ve never stepped foot into before. I’m 100% certain that I’ll sound like a superstitious ignorant, but bear with me:) Being quite the introvert type, it’s always a toil to find myself in ‘’unexplored’’ grounds but I wasn’t always such a lunatic over houses. Four-five years ago, we visited some friends in their new house, in a quaint seaside village, relatively close to Athens. The house was beautifully decorated, in an old-fashioned but nostalgic and inspired way, the family has been friends of ours for years, so no worries there. Yet, not long after we had comfortably placed ourselves in the lovely living room, I wanted to leave. I mean, an urgent open-the-door- or I’ll pass out kind of feeling. Just like that. I remember the headache and the feeling of heaviness as intensely as if I’m experiencing it right now. And the weird thing is that my parents felt it as well. There was nothing dark in the history of the house and the family still lives there happily and yet, I’ve never experienced such an unpleasant (to put it mildly) feeling in an indoors space since that day. It seemed to drain out every bit of energy in us…
In this exquisite thriller by Robert Marasco, the vast mansion becomes a summer refuge for the Rolfe family. At least, this is what Marian wants it to be. Fed up with their noisy New York apartment and the draining city life, she convinces Ben to spend two months in an estate beyond her wildest dream. The elderly siblings, the owners of the house, ask for a miniscule price and the only obligation the family has is to prepare a tray for the ‘’darling’’ mother who lives in the remotest part of the local floor, unseen by all who have rented the estate throughout the years. ‘’What could be more perfect?’’ is the only thought in Marian’s completely and utterly empty, idiotic head….
It’s possible that you know all about the heart of the plot of this brilliant thriller. You may have watched the film version. It won’t matter, I assure you, The way the book is s written will definitely absorb you. It made my heart pounding as I was approaching the conclusion, I was appalled and fascinated and under the grip of the tense influence of watching everything falling apart. The descriptions are razor sharp, building the story and the feeling of a foreboding darkness grows page by page. The dialogue could want for more, but let us not forget that the novel was written in the 70s, a decade that was fascinating and exciting but with colloquations that make us cringe now. And it seemed to me that the main theme was obsession. The craving for a different life, for what we perceive as mirrors of our identity and how far can we go in order to satisfy it. What if we have to make the most impossible choice? Would we succumb to an obsession or rise up against it? It all comes down to choices or at least, the illusion that we have a choice and this is exactly what attracted me to this finely woven plot.
The characters are overshadowed by the House which is the undoubtable protagonist of Marasco’s novel. Marian is highly unsympathetic. Self-centered, manipulative, an all-around bad mother. I never felt sorry for her. Not even for a moment…Ben starts out as a bit indifferent, verging on irritating but I found that he was quite complex as the story progressed and in truth? He was the only one who had a passable percentage of common sense and logical thinking in his mind. Aunt Elizabeth was sympathetic enough, quirky and compassionate. But this isn’t the kind of story where the characters have to be complex and sympathetic and what not. It is the setting, the ambiance of the writing that matters and this is as exceptional as we’ll ever find in the genre.
This is a psychological, paranormal thriller that does absolute justice to the genre that is being relentlessly tortured in our current times. There are no gore, no ghosts or jumpscares. But there is something far more frightening than any of these. Human obsession. The root for most evils in our lives. The way we choose to blind ourselves to sustain our illusions, the price we sometimes have to pay for not listening to our instinct and run…..
…and this novel damaged my perception of swimming pools for a lifetime…