Ancestral homes often have a habit of feeling haunted, and when they appear in stories that mix the Southern Gothic genre with the supernatural, you can bet they probably are.
But author Michael McDowell gives the familiar tropes something extra by setting his story amidst the sun and the sand of a secluded family retreat – Beldame, Alabama – that is home to three Victorian mansions almost completely surrounded by the warm gulf waters. Two families, connected by marriage but only recently reunited by a decidedly strange funeral, gather together at Beldame – per summer tradition – for some R&R. Did I mention that one of the three mansions is seemingly empty, being slowly buried beneath a gigantic sand dune? That’s important. And also bad news.
Originally published as a paperback in 1981, The Elementals was recently given some updated new life by Valancourt Books, the company responsible for releasing new editions of many off-the-beaten-path genre items, including the fantastic spy anomaly The Day the Call Came. McDowell wasn’t terribly prolific, but did write other novels, some short stories, and, as some readers may already know, the screenplays for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. His specialty was the eerie Southern novel involving a family saga or tragedy, and this story is a stellar example. It will give you the creeps, sure, but there's solid writing and characterization to go with the scares.
We’re not quite at the worst of the summer heat yet, so in order to keep a little distance between your real life and your reading life, right now’s the better time to immerse yourself in McDowell’s atmospheric tale of sun-scorched terror along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Ben is a Collection Development Librarian at Main Library. His favorite type of fiction is 'weird', and frequently 'vintage'. He also enjoys comics, picture books from yesteryear, and anything concerning illustration and graphic design. He can often be found helping readers learn Overdrive and Hoopla.