Tuesday, March 20, 2007

[Book Review] BURNT OFFERINGS by Robert Marasco


Jessie Marshall reviews BURNT OFFERINGS by Robert Marasco (Delacorte Press, 1973)

This first novel by Robert Marasco, a Tony Award-winning playwright, is a chilling tale of the supernatural. Ben Rolfe is a teacher and aspiring author. During the school year, Ben resides with his wife Marian and son David in a small New York apartment. Marian decides that she will not be able to endure another summer in their cramped quarters, so she sets about the task of convincing Ben to rent a place in the country for the summer months.

After finding a listing for a “UNIQUE SUMMER HOME,” complete with pool and private beach, advertised as “very reasonable for the right people,” Marian prevails upon her husband to visit the property. Once she has seen the incredible mansion, now in disrepair, she cannot envision spending her summer anywhere but there. The Rolfes are received and interviewed by the Allardyces, the brother and sister who live in the home. The rent is truly unbelievable, but there is one catch to the arrangement: the family who rents the home must also provide three meals a day for Mrs. Allardyce, the siblings’ 85-year-old mother, who will remain in the house throughout the summer.

After much consideration, the Rolfes agree to the peculiar rental agreement and move to the country with Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth joining them. Upon arrival, they find the keys to the house, but no one is there to provide any sort of orientation. Moving past the unusual beginning, the family starts to settle in at the estate. Marian sets about cleaning and caring for the house and its exquisite furnishings. She enjoys being in the presence of the lovely antiques. Ben, David, and Aunt Elizabeth spend their time exploring the beach, pool and grounds.

As the story progresses, unexplainable accidents begin to threaten the lives of some of the Rolfes. The reader senses an atmosphere of slowly mounting tension and the presence of a malevolent force in the house. As the story nears its conclusion, the pace quickens and the deliberately told tale becomes increasingly compelling as the house now seems to be drawing energy from and preying upon its inhabitants.

This book would appeal to readers because of the intriguing, well-drawn characters and also because of the foreboding, suspenseful tone. Marasco begins the story at a measured pace but masterfully increases the action so that the novel becomes a page-turner as the narrative moves toward its thrilling conclusion.

Jessie Marshall, Business and Science Department

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