Monday, October 18, 2021

Book Review: The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess

By Jami Denison

Whether it’s Stephen King, The Walking Dead, or Stranger Things, horror fiction almost always delivers the same message: The supernatural is frightening, but humans are the real monsters. Domestic thrillers deliver that message as well, minus the paranormal villains. Now author Andy Marino has pushed the envelope for domestic thrillers, offering a book that starts with a home invasion but turns into horror.  In The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess, the monster isn’t always other people. Sometimes, the monster is yourself.

In domestic thrillers, the sanctuary of the home turns into a place of terror. Marino kicks this off immediately by having Sydney return home to surprise a home invader. He attacks her, and when she wakes up in the hospital, it’s to the startling news that she killed the intruder. And it doesn’t just look like self-defense – she slashed his face to bits. Recovering from her wounds, Sydney refuses the heavy-duty painkillers she’s offered – she’s nine years sober, and her recovery and her life with her boyfriend Matt and 11-year-old son Danny are her most precious things. She’d do anything to keep them. 

But the attack has left Sydney with some strange battle scars; her body appears to be changing and her mind isn’t always her own anymore. As she tries to learn more about the man who broke into her house, she finds herself asking the question that all heroines of domestic thrillers ask: Who is this man sleeping beside me? But the answers take Sydney in an unexpected direction; she becomes a protagonist who is drawn to the darkness rather than fights it.

The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess is written in first person from Sydney’s point of view, and it moves backward and forward in time without warning. At first, Sydney’s memory problems seem to be a result of the attack; later it seems that they pre-date the attack. And the problems go beyond memory holes; Sydney appears to be hallucinating, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell if something is really happening, or whether Sydney is only imagining it. 

Reading the book, I found myself wondering if the narrative would have been clearer had it been written by Stephen King—who always writes in third-person—or even Robin Cook, as the book veered into medical-type horror. I had trouble understanding what was going on at times, and the imagery was sometimes difficult to picture.  

By the end, everything comes together neatly: Sydney’s past and present;  what happened to Sydney and why. Not surprisingly, Sydney’s addiction—a real-life monster—plays a prominent part. While I appreciated that Marino tied all his strands together, I didn’t feel that the supernatural result was a natural segue from its source. 

Still, what looms over the entire book is the theme that addiction turns humans into monsters. And whether that’s the supernatural horror of an entity that burrows inside a person, or the realistic horror of a mother selling a child’s prized possessions to feed her habit, the result is always unbearable. 

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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