Rating: 4 out of 5
Ali Seay’s horror novella To Offer Her Pleasure is a truly wild ride. Ben lost his father to cancer at 15, and his mother walked away at 16 with her boyfriend Patrick. Not sure when–or if–she’s going to return, he determines to take care of himself. Really he’s been doing that anyway since his father died. As he goes through his father’s things in order to feel close to him, he finds a hidden book. It’s called “To Offer Her Pleasure,” and it seems like it’s written in words Ben can almost read. It also has an image of a female form with horns that seems to move. He starts to find himself compelled to “feed” the book (the woman?) flesh and blood sacrifices, and she starts to demand MORE. Then his father comes to him in a dream and tells him the woman can give him a family if he just keeps sacrificing to her.
Ben’s reaction to all of this going on makes him an unusual horror protagonist. He isn’t so much horrified by his actions, and he isn’t even sure why. Yet at the same time, he is absolutely resolute in his desire to not harm certain entities. The combination is appealing.
We meet a few of Ben’s neighbors and friends. Mike from down the street is desperate for company. Steve has a bit of rage simmering under the surface. And Ben is attracted to Alice from his D&D group–she’s sweet, confident, and energetic. One neighbor is concerned for Ben in his mother’s absence. Each comes alive in interesting ways, even in cases where we don’t get to see them for long.
This really takes a hard look at what “family” means, and can mean. What does it take for someone to be a mother or a father? Or to be a good mother or father? How do you choose your own family? What sacrifices do you have to make to have the family you want or need?
The reason I gave this a 4 out of 5 instead of a 5 out of 5 is because there is no sequel planned and this book left too many loose ends. There are several woods oddities that so far have no explanation or apparent purpose in the story. Things feel rather like they end in the middle of the story with so much left to come or be resolved. There’s also a hint that a neighbor may know more than she’s saying about Ben’s father. There’s a certain feeling of a lack of satisfaction arising from those loose ends. Normally I love the novella format for horror, but this book needed to be novel-length.
Content note: sex, some gore, animal death, violence, murder.
“This is the part where I should stop but I don’t. I don’t, and everything goes terribly wrong.”