And Yet, The Knife…Andy Marino’s Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess

On Possessions, Intentions, and Hidden Selves

One, two, swimmer’s coming for you…

What does it truly mean to be haunted? To be possessed? When pain and love are inextricably linked, how do you tell the difference? And can you break the cycle, or pass it on?

When I set out on Andy Marino’s debut horror novel The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess, I expected a more or less run of the mill possession narrative. Woman is attacked during a home invasion, home invader is secretly supernatural, woman is marked and haunted by the newly-arrived entity in her home and either defeats or is defeated by it. While that is the basic outline of the story, Marino adds a few layers that grant his novel a distinctly original approach.

Sydney Burgess tells the story of a recovering addict forging a new life for herself and her 11-year-old son. One day, she comes home to find her carefully carved life being violated by a home invasion. After being attacked by the invader, she struggles to piece together the events of the night. Did she manage to run away, or did she fight back? Will the cop assigned to her case believe her, or will his preconceived ideas about the believability of an addict’s word get in the way? Why does he keep saying she killed the intruder? How and why does she keep waking up in the middle of the night with a knife in her hand? While she struggles to confront the traumatic event and uncover the identity and motivation of the man who broke into her house, she discovers even more terrifying secrets buried beneath the surface of her life and battles her cravings to give in to her personal demons.

Told through the alternating perspectives of present day and reflections of Sydney’s past, Visitations goes beyond a traditional possession narrative, instead exploring the implications of relationships that are at once superficially beneficial and exploitative. Sydney is fighting for her own ability to believe herself and make her perspective believed amid a memory fragmented by traumatic events and a series of people who consider her at worst a threat and at best a liar. Even the people she believes she can trust — her stable, straightedge boyfriend Matt — begin to look at her in a new and uneasy light.

There’s something about Visitations that made it almost impossible for me to put down. Sydney is a well fleshed out character we want to root for in all her endeavors, so her descent into the struggle of the book’s climax was surprisingly impactful. Recovering from addiction is no easy feat of its own, but recovering while possessed by some entity that has such a grip on your perception of the world that it makes you question your own bedrock relationships and you can’t remember anything it forces you to do? I found myself groaning out loud at her most shocking turns in her battle for control of her life for the sake of her son.

Though it does curve into supernatural territory, the heart of Visitations is closer to the horrors of manipulation. Manipulation of the self by the self, manipulation by others, and manipulation to others. The evil present here is a unique blend of inhumane humanity, seeking to explore the ways in which people can be altered and cope in the face of traumatic events and/or choices they make for themselves that inevitably bleed out into the lives of others. Marino’s novel is constantly tinged in the light of heartbreak and how it can affect our understanding of how to function in the world. It is a story of one woman’s rubble-strewn life of constant destruction and reconstruction and how far she is willing to go for the love and safety of her family.

We may not be able to ever truly outrun or bury our pasts, but it is what we do with them that matters most. Can we forge new paths from our traumas or are we doomed to repeat the cycles that made us? Is the danger of the cycle merely a matter of perception? Sydney’s rocky journey to the truth of her life and herself is constantly under the shadow of dangerous cycles brought about by people and circumstances that manipulated and/or pressured her into becoming a fractured version of her most aspirational self, and she is constantly at war with the impulses they birthed in her. Her conflicting desires— the desire to give her son a better life vs the desire to fall into old habits that echo her worthlessness she hears in her brain — are part of what make Sydney such a compelling and ultimately sympathetic character. Her successes and her missteps are equally impactful, even as we begin to wonder at how trustworthy her word and perception might be.

The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess is deceptively tightly woven within itself, such that talking about one element too much may give away a twist or otherwise vital piece of the story, but it is enough to say that it cast a spell on me that left me pushing off basic daily tasks like eating breakfast in an effort to find out what was going to happen next and where Sydney would ultimately end up. Marino’s sincerity in depicting the core relationship (between Sydney and her son) makes this a work of compassion even as it horrifies.

The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess hits shelves September 28, 2021 from Orbit Books and Hachette Book Group.

I would like to thank the author and Orbit Books for the opportunity to receive an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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