The Elementals by Michael McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Marian Savage dies, her son and his family head south to Beldame to recover in beach houses that have been in the family for generations. The family splits and takes two of the beach houses. The third house stays vacant, for an ancient evil lurks within...
I read Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga earlier this year and loved it. Michael McDowell has been on my radar ever since. When my cohort Anthony offered to loan it to me, I jumped on it.
I have to think The Elementals is a trial run for some concepts Michael McDowell would later explore at great length in Blackwater, namely a Southern family saga with supernatural elements lurking on the fringes.
The Savages and McCrays have been coming to Beldame for years but have always avoided the mysterious third house. After the death of the Savage matriarch, they head down to Beldame for some r&r. It's India McCray's first visit to Beldame so naturally she's very curious about the third house. It's sounds like it's going to be creepy from the beginning but it's not. Michael McDowell takes his time, develops the Savages and McCrays into characters you can't help but be interested it. Then he torments the poor bastards.
For the most part the story revolves around India McCray and Odessa, the Savage's maid. Odessa knows a lot mroe than she's letting on and India is a teenage busybody with nothing but time on her hands at the sleepy penisula. I have to say that Luker and India are my favorite father-daughter combo in all of fiction with their interesting dynamic. Apart, they're both fascinating but together, they're something else. Lawton's machinations made me hate him more than I feared the evils of the third house. Big Barabara's alcohol problem and relationship to Lawton was sad but I wound up liking her quite a bit.
In addiition to family drama, McDowell paints a very accurate picture of the torturous, oppressive heat and humidy of the south. I broke a sweat while I was reading some of the later chapters. The creepy happenings start at Marian Savage's funeral and gradually grow from there. By the end, it's hard to tell who is going to survive.
Much with Blackwater, I would have read twice as many pages featuring the Savages and McCrays. I enjoyed the characters so much that the horror element could be removed and it would still be an enjoyable book. Four out of five stars.
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