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Burnt Offerings (1973)

de Robert Marasco

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4081746,925 (3.65)28
One of the scariest haunted house novels ever written, "Burnt Offerings" chronicles the story of Ben and his family renting a house out in the New York countryside, and the horror that unfolds there. Contains new artwork, film stills, reproductions of movie posters, and more.
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Overall, I really enjoyed this book - Marasco did an excellent job building tension and creating atmosphere. Great listen! ( )
  tattooedreader13 | Aug 27, 2020 |
"Burnt Offerings" is nineteen-seventies classic horror. It's not in a hurry, It's not looking for the quick spike of fear that comes from slash-and-splash action. It's a slow burn read designed to build the kind of terror that comes from extended exposure to a threat you can't name, that you may even blame yourself for and which you can't escape.

Marasco takes a relatively normal domestic "What if?", adds an element of the supernatural and then unfolds events with dreadful implacability, leaving me feeling like I was watching flies struggling in the web of a spider that I hadn't yet seen. The "What if?" is: what if you had chance to have your dream house but the price was putting your marriage under strain and leaving you with no energy left over to do anything else? Would you pay the price? Would it be worth it? Could you NOT pay the price once you've started?

I suspect that, if this were being converted to a movie today, there would be a rush to get the young family to the haunted house so bad things could start to happen before people lose interest. Marasco goes a different route. He makes the oppression of living in a crowded, noisy apartment block in Queens in the summer heat and humidity come alive. He gives us time to look at wife and husband and to see how they are alone and apart. This achieves two things: it makes the decisions each of them make later more believable and it lays the foundation for believing that what befalls them is, somehow, their own fault.

When we finally get to the huge, remote house in up-State New York that the couple is thinking of renting for the summer, there is a strong sense of threat being masked in the same way that a spicy sauce is used to hide the tainted meat it covers. The masking is done partly by the weirdly charismatic Alerdices, who own the house but the couple themselves actively collude in not seeing anything wrong.

As the reader, hearing the Alerdices say that the house will be rented to "The right people'" felt like a doom or a curse, as if they were identifying "the right people" the same way that a predator uses the barely-there-but-bound-to-get-worse lameness to mark one of the herd as prey.

To me, the rental house seems a twist on the fairy tale gingerbread house: part lure, part trap. The Alerdices, brother and sister, seem at first to be the wicked witch, yet something speaks to priest or acolyte which opens the question of who or what is being worshipped.

Yet the Alerdices do not force the house on this couple. The wife lusts after it, not just blind but antagonistic to any suggestion of a problem. The husband senses the taint of something rotten beneath the surface but will not stand behind his judgement. If the house is a trap then these two have chosen to ensnare themselves. This self-ensnarement provides an element of guilt that will make them distrust themselves and each other and which made me less sympathetic to them.

As time goes by and various spooky, tension-inducing things happen, I found myself starting to dislike both the husband and the wife. They were never particularly engaging but I could feel the best parts of them leaching away like topsoil in a rainstorm, as they came under the influence of the house. I think the power of Marasco's writing is shown by how my perceptions as the reader where manipulated, letting me slide from being neutral about this couple at the start of the novel to experiencing a kind of grim schadenfreude-driven satisfaction at what happens to them at the end.

I won't give away what happens. The ending was not a surprise but that amplified rather than reduce the level of horror.

I listened to the audiobook, read by R.C Bray, who I always think of as having a "Joe Friday" voice although his range is much broader than that. He's the perfect choice for this low key but relentless horror story. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
I can't say enough good things about this incredible haunted house story!
 
It was fast paced. It was chilling. It was vividly real. It was atmospheric. It was scary.It inexorably, unrelentingly pulls the reader to its final conclusion and that conclusion is stunning.
 
This is one of the best haunted house tales I've EVER read. Perhaps it's not as literary as The Haunting of Hill House, but it makes up for that with amazing imagery punctuated with scenes of such a chilling nature that my hands actually trembled while reading them. If you're looking for a haunted house tale with an ending that doesn't disappoint, this is THE book for you.
 
My HIGHEST recommendation!
 
*I received a free copy of this book from Valancourt Books in exchange for an honest review. Here it is.* ( )
  Charrlygirl | Mar 22, 2020 |
The Rolfe family is tired of the city. Marian and Ben Rolfe live in New York City and they are fed up with all the noise around them. They want to getaway. When Marian Rolfe finds an ad for an upstate rental house at a “reasonable price”. Marian is gung-ho about the place but Ben has his doubts but agrees that there’s no harm in checking it out. When they get to the address in the ad, they find a huge rundown mansion. Ben is convinced that the house is out of reach and wants to leave but Marian is already in love. They meet the owners, the Allerdyces, who are weirdos. They creep Ben out but when they tell them that the price is $900 for the whole summer, Ben is less creeped out. There are two conditions to the sweet price: the Allerdyces want Marian to fix up the place, which Marian probably would’ve done anyway. Also, they must, three times per day, bring a food tray to the Allerdyces’ mother whom they are going to leave in her room upstairs. It’s a totally normal thing to do and she won’t bother you at all and you likely won’t see her. The Allerdyces begin to act completely cult-like when talking about their mother calling her “Our Darling” repeatedly in a reverential tone. Ben wants to leave but Marian wants to stay, so they compromise and stay. They move in with their son, David, and Ben’s aunt, Elizabeth.

Soon, the Rolfes start behaving in ways that aren’t in character. There are some rapey moments from Ben and Mirian becomes obsessed with cleaning and tending to Mrs Allerdyce. Soon their behaviour escalates and the Rolfes become increasingly distant from each other. The house is clearly influencing their behaviour and casting darkness over their relaxing summer.

This is a SLOW burn of a haunted house novel. The is minimal characterisation and there are moments that feel pivotal but they are never mentioned again. Despite the slow build towards the climax, the ending itself felt rushed. I can forgive a lot of faults in a book like this, it was written in the early 70s and many things that I find cliche now was groundbreaking then. Stephen King lists this book as a main influence in The Shining and I can see that. Overall, I enjoyed this book but cannot see myself wanting to revisit this one but it definitely deserves to be read. I recommend this one to anyone that is a fan of a classic haunted house story. ( )
1 vota TeamRedmon | Aug 20, 2019 |
A good book, in the spirit of the cerebral and slow-burn horror storytelling of the 70's. Also a clear influence on Stephen King (a good number of elements are duplicated in The Shining). The writing is really wonderful, and as fans of Robert Marasco have said time and time again - if it had been written a decade later, he would have been in demand as a horror author.
I didn't like that everything was predictable for me from about 2/3rds of the way in. I can't know if this points to the book's influence on later works (and modern horror tropes), or if it was just that predictable. It stinks to know how something is going to end when you're a hundred or more pages from the end. Even considered ditching it over this disappointment. That's what brought me from a 4 to 3 rating.
Ultimately prefer the more subtle and atmospheric "The House Next Door". ( )
1 vota Ron18 | Feb 17, 2019 |
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One of the scariest haunted house novels ever written, "Burnt Offerings" chronicles the story of Ben and his family renting a house out in the New York countryside, and the horror that unfolds there. Contains new artwork, film stills, reproductions of movie posters, and more.

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