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The Elementals

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,986 Ratings  ·  439 Reviews
On a split of land cut off by the Gulf, three Victorian summer houses stand against the encroaching sand. Two of the houses at Beldame are still used. The third house, filling with sand, is empty...except for the vicious horror which is shaping nightmares from the nothingness that hangs in the dank, fetid air.

The McCrays and Savages, two fine Mobile families allied by marr
Paperback, 292 pages
Published October 1st 1981 by Avon Books (first published 1981)
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Brad I agree about the sand, it has more signifigance than just "sand." I'm only on page 175 right now, so maybe it will become more apparent as I get…moreI agree about the sand, it has more signifigance than just "sand." I'm only on page 175 right now, so maybe it will become more apparent as I get nearer to the finish?(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Jayne Lamb Without being too glib, I think it was both. The third house became a depository for all of the ongoing family mythology.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I would read a lot more horror tales if they were all this well written with this much originality.
If you are looking for that perfect horror story to take with you to the beach... this is it.

So have you ever been walking along a beach and felt the sand trying to pull you down?
Just a natural settling you say.
But did you look to see if perhaps it had left a mark around your ankles?
The sand wants what it wants.
Have you ever returned indoors after a day at the beach, took a long shower in or
mark monday
Dec 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horrortime
here's a rant:

the constant marginalization of horror really pisses me off. this is, after all, a genre that includes works by Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Ambrose Bierce, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, Justin Cronin... so many classic and modern luminaries. it includes modern unknowns like Thomas Ligotti, who can out-write 9 authors out of 10, and dazzling semi-unknowns like Robert Aickman, whose prose can be compared favorably to best of Beattie or Byatt or Boyle. and yet it
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any fans of 80's atmospheric horror
Recommended to Char by: Tressa Fancher
This book was a total pleasure, from start to finish. To enhance that pleasure, I read it with a group of horror lovers over at Goodreads and we had a ball!

This book was written in the 80's and a lot of my fellow book loving friends have recommended it to me over the last few years. Problem was it was out of print and I couldn't even find 1 copy of anything he's written in the various used book stores in which I shop. Then, Valancourt Books came to the rescue! Valancourt is dedicated to bringin
Jonathan Janz
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If Tennessee Williams wrote a supernatural horror novel, it would read like THE ELEMENTALS.

This statement isn't completely true, of course; Michael McDowell was a fiercely unique author who wrote unlike any other. But some of the most fascinating aspects of Tennessee Williams's plays are exhibited in this novel: atypical/dysfunctional familial relationships; unpleasant truths suppressed or left unspoken; horror-through-acquiescence; moments of shocking violence; manipulative, vicious matriarchs
Paul Nelson
The Elementals by Michael McDowell was first released in 1981 and then re-released in 2014 by Valancourt Books with an introduction by author Michael Rowe.

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 Vict
Horace Derwent
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
savage mothers eat their children up! -- still the parrot squawking about my ears

in 1981, the paperback costed $2.95, now it costs over $20.95, but that's not what's stir-frying my ass...the golden age of horror novels is really gone and it's long gone, alas!

i'd been prepping for not getting ass stir-fried by this great book, but i'm now just being ass stir-fried...
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of classic, supernatural horror

Honestly, I think I'd have a difficult time finding a better example of a "quiet horror" book that delivers genuine chills! The southern atmosphere and isolation of the vacation houses of the two main families couldn't have been in a better location. With nothing except the shifting sands and surf for company, the scene here was set perfectly for a horror so unsettling, that even I couldn't predict what would happen next!

If you're looking for a gore/torture fest, you won't find it
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
4.5/5 Review of this will be up tomorrow!
Jon Recluse
Three houses. Isolated on a spit of land along the Gulf Coast of Alabama known as Beldame. Two are occupied in season. One is abandoned, slowly being swallowed up by the ever-shifting dunes. But far from empty. For within the shifting sands, something stirs.
This book is a masterpiece of Southern Gothic. An atmospheric sun-drenched sojourn into horror that matches pace to place, a laconic stroll through the hazy, lazy days of summer, populated by the kind of eccentrics you only find below the Mas
The Elementals is absolutely fantastic and listening to it somehow makes it even better!

A horror story from the golden age of the 80's, The Elementals stands head and shoulders above the rest. Everything about it has the ring of truth, from the accents of southern Alabama, (my Alabama friend Tressa assures me of this, and R.C. Bray nails it), to the strange familial relationships, and the supernatural beliefs of the characters. All of it combines to bring together an actually scary story. Even t
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to BrokenTune by: Char
Shelves: reviewed
“Oh,” he whispered, “sorry, Nails, you all right?”
He smiled, remembering in what affection his mother had held the shrill bird— despite its disappointing speechlessness. He raised the cover to peer inside. The parrot flapped its iridescent, blood-red wings and stuck its beak between the bars. Its flat black eye reflected light that was not in the room. For the first time in its eight-year life, the parrot spoke. In cold imitation of Luker McCray’s voice, the parrot cried: “Savage mothers eat the
I'm so glad I had read three other Michael McDowell books before this one. It made The Elementals seem even better.

Welcome to Beldame, a sandbar set out in the Gulf of Mexico, where three houses stand. Two are used by the connected families, the McCrays and the Savages. The third sits at the end of the sandbar, slowly being covered and filled by sand. It sits there long abandoned and ready to be forgotten.



Something evil lurks in that third house and the inhabitants of Beldame are about to figure
Tom Mathews
Alabama native and horror writer Michael McDowell knew Southern Gothic. This creepy masterpiece from the golden age of horror blends the indolence of a steamy southern summer with the horror of unknown things that lurk on the fringes of the imagination. The setting, three Victorian mansions set on a tiny island on Alabama's gulf coast is an ideal setting for a tale that will leave you chilled even in the hot summer sun.

I want to thank the folks at the Literary Darkness group in Goodreads for int
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite its slow pace or maybe because of it I was drawn into this one from the very first chapter, which really set the tone and feel of this one.

Screaming Nails. Family secrets. Family rituals. The Elementals.

Something sinister is going on near the McCray and Savage family homes at Beldame. A presence has made itself known. It lives in the sand that is slowly devouring the third house and now it wants more. Much more.

A very good Southern Slow Burn Horror tale that really cranks up the tension
David Brian
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There are certain books which I tend to think of fondly and consider as favorites, only later to re-read and discover that the passing of time has dulled the enjoyment I felt during that initial reading. Maybe, in later years, I will re-read The Elementals by Michael McDowell, and perhaps by then I will have found more deserving favorites.
It's a possibility.
For now though, I would have to say that The Elementals is the finest example of Southern Gothic, and/or Quiet Horror, that I have had the p
Erin ☕ *Proud Book Hoarder*
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Erin ☕ *Proud Book Hoarder* by: Tressa

3.5 stars

When reading this, expect to go between dry humor and subtle creepiness.

Unusual characterization makes the book stand out as much as the plot does. I’ve never seen a father-daughter relationship like Luker and his daughter India. It’s not possible to describe well – he hates his ex-wife and she hates her mother, and they don’t care either. I’m guessing he does what is right and loves his daughter but has much more of a friend than father relationship – they swear comfortably in front of
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing piece of southern literature. The characters were likeable and pretty awesome, especially India, although her relationship with her dad could be questionable. The houses in Beldame seemed like the perfect vacation although I emphasize seemed and if you read this book, which I highly recommend, you will see why. I'll tell you this, you certainly won't see sand the same way! Something is waiting for these two families that you won't wanna miss! Can't wait to read more from this ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: horror
You know...I'd forgotten these books. My wife found this (and I'll say "these" as she went from this book to McDowell's Blackwater series. This isn't part of that series, but I always think of them together as I read it after my wife in her "McDowell Period").

My wife was always more the "horror" fan than I was/am and she ended up introducing me to several authors/books I probably would never have tried had she not found them first. During our marriage we would occasionally come across books we b
Twerking To Beethoven
Maybe you've read Peter Straub's Ghost Story.


"The Elementals" sort of reminded me of that amazing novel, plus a couple of splatter-ish bits towards the end.

There's a haunted house.


And funny stuff happening in and around it.


And... sand. Plenty of sand.


Bear in mind this is not a proper ghost-story: the "elementals" aren't exactly people who, you know... snuffed it; also they appear to be more active in plain daylight.

Oh, before I forget, "gone" in Alabama means "going to". Just so you know.
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, horror, 2016
The person who wrote the prologue was correct when he stated that the setting was a character in this book. This review won't do the book proper justice because I'm writing it in a hurry... Aside from the strange opening act, the first half of the book left me wondering if this book was indeed correctly classified as "horror." There were a few events of a supernatural nature that occurred in the early stages of the novel, but then things appeared to calm down. Just past the halfway point, the si ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such a good story. The setting is great, the people are just normal people. It's very good & creepy.
Nancy Oakes
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so bright it flashed through the closed blinds. I would also like to say that Valancourt Books has done readers a huge favor with this reissued classic -- they have made it widely available at a very good price -- have you seen the cost of a used crappy mass market paperback of this book?

absolutely no spoilers ahead:

The Elementals focuses on two Alabama
Leah Polcar
I simply can't believe I have never heard of this book, or McDowell, before. As a huge fan of ghost and haunted house stories, this omission is really unexplainable. I came upon this book recently on a list of the best horror novels ever written, or something like that, and given that it seemed I had read the other 300 novels listed, I thought I should give The Elementals a try. As I find the name rather silly, and definitely un-scary, and the author also wrote Beetlejuice, which was interesti ...more
Ms. Nikki
There are very few books that tell a tale I want to get back to. Stories that are horror but don't give you enough horror, but you're okay with it because it was told in such an intriguing way. This wasn't even quiet horror for me. It felt more paranormal with apparition and whatnot.

A genuinely good read.
Glenn Rolfe
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael McDowell’s 1981 paperback horror novel, THE ELEMENTALS, is what they call a slow burn. Patiently and expertly crafted, the numerous characters in this book carry you along as the events, past and present, unfold. The tension slowly rises as you learn more and more about the ghosts? Spirits? surrounding the Beldame property and the families that own it.

When Marian Savage dies, her son, Dauphin, is left to handle the aftermath. After the odd family ritual Dauphin, along with his wife, Lei
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow! It is hard to believe that this book was originally released in 1981. The McCray's and the Savages are fine Southern families that are related by marriage. The families have been going to Beldame for many years. There are three Victorian houses located at Beldame. One is owned by the McCray's and other one owned by the Savages. The third house sit alone empty for some unknown reason. This house is filling up with sand and is said to be very dangerous. The families were told to stay away fro ...more
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes you start a book and the first few pages are so good that you just know it will become a favourite. There are times when it doesn't work out that way, endings that leave you wanting, flat characters, but The Elementals is not one of those books. In fact it just gets better and better.

The Savages and the McCrays have been spending their summers at Beldame for as long as they can remember. 3 identical Victorian homes built on a long stretch of sand off the gulf coast of Alabama. The Sava
Jul 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Horror fans
Shelves: horror
If you’re looking for a good horror novel for the beach, The Elementals would be an excellent choice. Unfortunately the author died in 1999, so his books are mostly out-of-print. Still, they’re definitely worth seeking out. The Elementals is basically a ghost story (well sort of, since an “elemental” is not a ghost (they’re much more dangerous) , and the cool thing here as far as beach reads go, is that it takes place on the Gulf, where three isolated Victorian era houses stand. One of them is “ ...more
 (shan) Littlebookcove
The Elementals A delightful tale that was written in the 80s and went out of print, but then got reissued Harrraah! As it's truly a wonderful tale! As soon as I tucked into this book I was struck with how it just sets the pace for what would be a perfect read.The elementals is based in warm, chilled Alabama. I picked this vibe up and lavished it, as I love that old southern style charm. The story is based upon 3 main southern Rich family's Mostly the Savage family. The other family being the McC ...more
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Michael McDowell is a prolific horror writer who has distinguished himself with a varied body of work within the genre. He was born in Enterprise, Alabama, in 1950 and died of AIDS-related illness in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1999.

His first horror novel, The Amulet, relates the tragedies that befall various individuals who come in possession of a supernatural bracelet in a small town.

In McDowell'
More about Michael McDowell...

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“Savage mothers eat their children!” 6 likes
“Alcoholism is a disease,” she said. “Like athlete’s foot. Or herpes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Luker and I have lots of friends who are alcoholics. And speed freaks too.” “Well,” 1 likes
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