Short Takes: Robert Marasco's BURNT OFFERINGS
Well, first of all, to all the people who came in because I linked to Steyn, I'm quite shocked, as I had no idea anyone was paying attention to this thing. As for Steyn himself, I'm rather an admirer, and certainly feel his "America Alone" thesis is an important one. I also think he's fighting a very brave fight up there in Canada.
I just don't think he's much of a literary critic. Conservative critics tend to fall into the same sorts of traps, a common one being a kind of clubby "we're all boys here" sort of thing, which is mainly what that Amis piece is. Amis is an interesting writer but he's most interesting to those who can keep from swallowing the bait, basically.
As for Mr. Max Allan Collins, who got snippy with me on another blog because I dared suggest he was what he in fact is, a blah workmanlike writer, I hereby announce an occasional feature put here soley to amuse myself -- Max Allan Collins huckster watch! Watch as Max Allan Collins relentlessly googles his name to remind us of various products he has for sale or soon will have for sale!
We're waiting for you, Max! Don't let us down!
As for Marasco's BURNT OFFERINGS, this is something of an unrecognized book, surely better than the Farris stuff we waded through recently. In fact, it's better than Tryon's stuff too, albeit not as well written on a line by line basis and not as imaginative or inventive. Marasco is a good solid thoughtful writer, but he doesn't have the kind of lyricism that Tryon, at his best, could pack into his prose. There's nothing here that equals the giddy final pulling back of the drape in THE OTHER, or the sheer careful chutzpah of the house of cards in HARVEST HOME.
So how's it better? It's just better realized, man. It's better thought through. First let's get the obvious out of the way -- THE SHINING owes a lot to this. The story presupposes a house which seduces one parent into the "caretaking" function away from her proper familial "caretaking" (THE SHINING obviously borrows a lot from this); which on some level feeds on discord and rancor (I mean, it really does, doesn't this sound like The Overlook?), where the unearthing of the past as seen through things is seen as a perilous undertaking (man, gimme a break, huh? Jack with the scrapbook); finally the house itself is "the character" and succeeds by sucking up, essentially, the family's lives. THE SHINING is basically a rewrite of this notion; catty comments about King's originality to one side he just does a better job with the concept. The outside world is dreamy and inaccessible in Marasco; King will make it literally inaccessible. The notion that the house is the prime mover itself is hinted at in the book -- King will be quite clear that it's the Overlook itself who's the antagonist. Ideas that are blurred over in Marasco -- perhaps because he's often writing from a female pov and isn't wholly comfortable with it -- are quite sharp with King, because this is mostly from a male pov and King brings in very sharp observations about masculine insecurity, etc.
But never mind King for a second -- compare Marasco to Tryon and while Tryon is the more natural novelist, and probably the more interesting talent, Marasco's playwriting experience paid off and he's built a much more secure structure here. The more I think about it, it feels a lot like a play -- a limited cast of characters, very careful scenes, the outside world deliberately dreamy and far away, a pistol in scene one will eventually be fired at the end of the play, etc. It just works better, and I admire it more than I admire Tryon's work because I'm not constantly in the position of picking flaws with it.
I'm not sure I'd always want to say that about every book -- I don't think I want to reduce this to a critical precept. Sometimes the novel of incredible highs and lows, broken as it can be, is better than the well-made mediocrity. But there is a satisfaction to be found in BURNT OFFERINGS that's not lightly dismissed -- a well made thing of any kind is a treasure, as so much isn't.
Very highly recommended -- if you have any taste at all for Seventies horror, you'll like this. Effectively downbeat, too.
Next time, Exley's A FAN'S NOTES.