Burnt Offerings (1973) – Robert Marasco

Burnt Offerings is the type of tale that I’m glad I came to at this age as opposed to my early teen years when I first discovered horror novels. I say that because at that time, I would have hated it no matter who recommended it to me. I had discovered King, and The Shining seemed to be the ultimate haunted house story for me at the time.

Since my youth I’d discovered Jackson, Barker, and countless others, and I have learned that the theatre of the mind can be just as frightening as the ghoul in the closet.

And this tale definitely requires the reader to invest, to pore over the lines, and realise that the characters aren’t acting as they are supposed to. Yes, some of it is doled out easily for you, but some of it is just little asides, little internal thoughts, or moments that verge on the indefinable.

There’s a menace to the tale that would have been missed by my younger self, and I consequently would have found it a disappointing read. Coming to it now, it wasn’t disappointing, but it was definitely a more subtle novel than I thought it would be, at least until the last dozen pages or so when the proverbial waste product hits the fan.

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It’s summer, and Ben, wife Marian and kid, David don’t want t be stuck in their hot New York apartment all season again. But renting a summer place isn’t always affordable.

That doesn’t stop Marian from looking, and finding an impossible to turn down deal. A massive estate for two months for a mere pittance. There is only one real proviso provided by the owners, who are going away, meals are to be delivered to their mother, who has a cluster or rooms in the secluded west wing, three times a day. They promise that she won’t be a burden, probably won’t even be seen, and they are convinced this is the right family to take over the estate for the summer.

With Aunt Elizabeth in tow, the family relocates to the massive home, never glimpsing the elderly woman in the locked rooms, even as the house, and the grounds seem to have an effect on them.

Behaviours shift, Ben is suffering from hallucinations, blurring vision, and pain, as well as out of character actions towards his wife and son. Marian becomes increasingly obsessed with the house, its maintenance and the existence of the old woman behind a strange intricately designed door.

The house blooms under their residence, and it’s not too hard to figure out why. It’s easily deduced which is good that the novel isn’t overlong to try to draw it out. There’s just enough menace, and few troubling surprises to surprise you.

Spend some time in the house, and see what happens.

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