Book: “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” by Andy Marino
Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.
Book Description: From an electrifying voice in horror comes the haunting tale of a woman whose life begins to unravel after a home invasion.
Possession is an addiction.
Sydney’s spent years burying her past and building a better life for herself and her young son. A respectable marketing job, a house with reclaimed and sustainable furniture, and a boyfriend who loves her son and accepts her, flaws and all.
But when she opens her front door, and a masked intruder knocks her briefly unconscious, everything begins to unravel. She wakes in the hospital and tells a harrowing story of escape. Of dashing out a broken window. Of running into her neighbors’ yard and calling the police.
The cops tell her a different story. Because the intruder is now lying dead in her guest room—murdered in a way that looks intimately personal. Sydney can’t remember killing the man. No one believes her.
Back home, as horrific memories surface, an unnatural darkness begins whispering in her ear. Urging her back to old addictions and a past she’s buried to build a better life for herself and her son. As Sydney searches for truth among the wreckage of a past that won’t stay buried for long, the unquiet darkness begins to grow. To change into something unimaginable. To reveal terrible cravings of its own.
Review: Thank you to Redhook for sending me an ARC of this novel!
It isn’t super often that you find a demonic possession story in my book pile when it comes to horror. I’m not against it, really, as I have certainly enjoyed a few stories that involve such things. But there is always an undercurrent of religious fervor that goes hand in hand with possession tales, and I have no problem with that as a concept. It just doesn’t really connect with me. But something about “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” by Andy Marino caught my eye when it read the description, and I felt compelled to pick it up. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book with possession at its heart, and one that looks at it through the lens of addiction seemed like a take that I hadn’t encountered before in the subgenre.
I will say that in terms of the possession angle of this story it goes to unpredictable places. In general that is usually a good thing for me, because as a rule I am not as able to connect to traditional possession tales due to a serious lack of belief in demons and devils. If you take that and go to more interesting places, however, be it by examining a priest’s loss of faith a la “The Exorcist”, or a professional skeptic’s slow descent into turmoil a la “The Last Days of Jack Sparks”, I will be more on board. And in this book we go in unexpected and unique territory regarding Sidney’s ‘swimmer’, as she refers to whatever it is that is making her black out and is always lurking at the edges of her consciousness. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that the reveal as to what is going on is definitely unexpected, but didn’t quite work for me. Nor did the rapid time jumping and choppy structure. My guess is that it was supposed to add to the confusion and disorientation that Sidney is feeling as she is losing time and memories and then pulling them back out of the ether, but I found it disruptive more than effective.
What did work was how Marino brings the theme of addiction into the story. Sidney has been sober for nine years when we meet her, and as this ‘swimmer’ starts to slowly encroach upon her consciousness, it tempts her to fall back into old and destructive habits. As Sidney starts to lose her grip on what is up and what is down, she starts to lose the will to remain sober. Marino has a lot of dark and uncomfortable moments when it comes to Sidney’s fight against addiction, both in her past and in her present, and it feels raw and relentless in how he portrays the slow slipping back into an addiction spiral. While the theme of ‘addiction as possession’ is kind of obvious (and ultimately, not the biggest issue when it comes to Sidney’s personal possession problems), Marino makes it feel very powerful and emotional. Part of the dread is wondering how badly Sidney is going to fall. There are also some really gnarly moments of body horror in this book. You probably need a bit of that in a possession story, to be honest, and this book has it in spades.
“The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” went to places I wasn’t anticipating. While it didn’t quite break free from my general apathy towards possession stories, the human and very real world emotional notes are great and will leave the reader unsettled.
Rating 7: Intense, strange, and unique on how it looks at ‘possession’ stories, “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” is a gory slow burn of a horror novel that has some powerful insights on addiction, but a structure problem and some out there revelations.
“The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” is not included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Demonic Possession”.