The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess is a skin-crawlingly good horror book by Andy Marino, his first novel for adults. It explores the real and supernatural darkness inside one woman and has an excellent blend of psychological and body horror that will keep you turning pages. Marino’s visceral and descriptive style set you firmly in every moment, switching from domestic to disturbing with ease.
Most of us have some urge in our life that we have to fight. For many of us it’s something innocuous like a fancy coffee drink with way too many calories, and it’s not the end of the world if we slip now and then. For Sydney Burgess there is no slipping. Sydney is an addict, a self-described junkie, and every minute of her day is shadowed with dark urges. When we meet Sydney she has been clean for nine years, seven months, and twenty two days. Through force of will and love for her son Danny she has built a good life for them both. Which makes it all the more horrifying when she wakes up in the hospital having brutally murdered a home invader, with no memory of doing so.
Sydney’s son and boyfriend are off camping and she has the house to herself for a night. She is exalting in the opportunity to pick the takeout food and control the TV remote. But she arrives home to find a strange man in her kitchen, who is also startled to see her and knocks her out with a large votive candle. Sydney awakens tied up in her guest room, but manages to escape and find help before passing out. However when Sydney wakes up in the hospital the Sheriff informs her that not only did it not happen like she remembers, she butchered the man with a kitchen knife.
I have not experienced addiction, so I can’t say for sure here if this is an accurate depiction of it, but it is certainly written convincingly. Author Andy Marino explores the horror of not just losing control, but losing knowledge of what you even did, with a character that exerts such strong control on her life. Marino does a fantastic job in this book of juxtaposing the normal and comfortable with the dark and unknown. As the book progresses we jump between time periods for Sydney, each snapshot transitioning smoothly into the next in a way that makes the book hard to put down. The book is at times intensely sweet and sad as Sydney reflects on her intense love for her son and the growing realization that something is very wrong with her and that could put him at risk. The feeling of dread in this book really gets under your skin and makes you want to keep reading while also knowing that it’s probably going to get worse.
Much of the book centers around Sydney’s home, a comfortable house in the suburbs that she takes intense pride in. She cherishes the items it is filled with, each one of them a piece of the good and quiet life she has worked hard for with Danny and her boyfriend Matt. Over the COVID19 pandemic I, and I would guess many people, have reevaluated our relationships to our homes. Our homes have become our safe havens in a world wracked with dangerous unknowns. We’ve spent so much time in them that we’ve come to learn every nook and cranny. For many of us home is now also work, daycare, and school. It makes the violation of Sydney’s home, first by the invader and then by the thing growing inside Sydney, all the more horrifying. Some of the best moments in the book are moments that happen every day to people: finding a strange man in your house, burglaries turning violent, relapsing in sobriety, the realization that your partner has lied to you, and the feeling that there is something deeply wrong with you. In fact the climax of the book features an incredibly frightening scene that has little to do with the supernatural but had me white knuckling my e-reader.
If I had any major criticisms of this book it’s that it lacks any sort of diversity. The characters described are all white heterosexuals. The concept of a good life in the suburbs is itself very rooted in whiteness. As such there are definitely folks out there that will have a hard time identifying with one of the driving forces of the book.
Ultimately this is an excellent horror novel in which the true fear is derived from very real things. The unnatural is but an accessory to that, enhancing these all too real scenarios but leaving them grounded in the knowledge that it could happen to us.
The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess comes out on September 28th, 2021 and is available for preorder now. Thanks to Hachette Book Group for providing an advanced reader copy.