Robert Marasco was an American horror novelist, playwright, and teacher. He didn’t write a lot – Burnt Offerings, which came out in 1973, was one of two novels he’d written (the other one being Parlor Games, which came out in 1979). He is best known for his 1970 Broadway play Child’s Play, which unfortunately has nothing to do with killer dolls.
Burnt Offerings came out, as mentioned before, in 1973 but was recently reprinted in 2015 by Valancourt Press. It also has a film adaptation of the same name that came out in 1976. The novel follows the Rolfe family who are desperate to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York. The wife, Marian, pressures her husband, David, to rent a summer home for them.
Their budget is constrictive but they find a deal too good to be true – because of course it is! This is a horror novel!
The summer home is an isolated, dilapidated old mansion which is owned by a really weird pair of siblings. Part of the rental agreement is that the elderly siblings’ mother will remain in her apartment on the top floor of the house and the Rolfes need to bring her food three times a day.
Following horror trope guidelines, the family agrees and moves in for the summer.
Over the following months, they are then haunted by something impalpable and sinister. They experience bizarre things, strange incidents, inner turmoil, and intrusive thoughts. All of this accumulates into a twisted, haunting ending.
I always like a good psychological horror and this is on par with The Haunting of Hill House. The atmosphere of the house was intense, especially paired with the decline into madness of each character, lies heavy throughout the entire novel and inspires such delicious unease in the reader. I read through this book in a single weekend, eager to turn each page and see what insidious evil was waiting on the next.
Burnt Offerings is a slow burn with an amazingly twisted end that I did not expect at all.
I can see why Valancourt decided to reprint it, it is a monstrously good read and I would recommend it to anyone who was also a fan of The Haunting of Hill House. If you’re not a fan of slow burns and horror that relies on atmosphere/character tension than definitely skip this one.
x P.L. McMillan