The story begins with the funeral of Marian Savage, the matriarch of an old and opulent family from Alabama with an intriguingly peculiar and disturbing burial rite.
The Savage family are linked by marriage, friendship and history to the McCrays and both families spend the summer at Beldame. An island compound on which sits three identical Victorian mansions, one owned by the Savages, one by the McCrays and one that sits empty, for reasons unknown. At night the island is cut off from the mainland by the tide, there is literally no escape from what haunts the night.
What the author excels at, what you can actually feel, is the atmosphere, crippling, oppressive heat, the pitch black shroud of night and that third house, slowly being consumed by the fine white sand. McDowell then introduces the characters, with depth and insight, masterful storytelling indeed as the empty house and its story slowly comes to light.
‘Worry, clever thought, conversation all were crushed by the weight of the atmosphere.’
India McCray is the young inquisitive daughter with an intense desire to know everything about that third house and the first time she looks in the window, when she sees something. Something that should have turned her head rapidly in the other direction, swiftly followed by a running motion, she’ll wish it did in the end, more than anything.
‘India’s own black shadow of curiosity stretched across the floor, like a startled residue of the room’s last inhabitant.’
A fearful chill gradually creeps up on you almost unnoticed, but not quite, as the history of the place is slowly revealed. All until the last night on Beldame when the chill manifests into nerve shredding panic and sheer disbelief as the characters you’ve spent the whole story invested in suddenly face the unthinkable.
A phrase that will remain imprinted and serve as a reminder for my sieve like memory is “Savage mothers eat their children up!” read into that what you will. But if you like your horror akin to a gentle stroll, where you can get to know all your surroundings intimately, followed by a fucking death defying plunge of a cliff into a body of water that you’ve no clue to the depth of. Then you’ll enjoy The Elementals I’m sure.
Michael McDowell wrote over 20 novels and several screenplays including Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), as well as the script for Stephen Kings Thinner (1996). He died in 1999 and Tabitha King completed an unfinished McDowell novel, Candles Burning, which was published in 2006.