The Elementals

Narrated by: R.C. Bray
Length: 8 hrs and 6 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (5,452 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

2017 Audie Award Finalist

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama's Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier - and is now ready to kill again.... 

A haunted house story unlike any other, Michael McDowell's The Elementals (1981) was one of the finest novels to come out of the horror publishing explosion of the 1970s and '80s. Though best known for his screenplays for Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, McDowell is now being rediscovered as one of the best modern horror writers and a master of Southern Gothic literature. This edition of McDowell's masterpiece of terror features a new introduction by award-winning horror author Michael Rowe. McDowell's first novel, the grisly and darkly comic The Amulet (1979), is also available from Valancourt Books.

©1981 Michael McDowell (P)2016 Valancourt Books, LLC
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Solid Haunted House Book - and that's rare!

It seems such a difficult thing to find a good haunted house book. They must be very difficult to write - there are more POS haunted house books on the market than any other genre I've found.

This is what I think it takes (authors please take note) to write a good haunted house book:
- A decent backstory (probably the least amount of creativity required for this - really, 'an eccentric aunt leaves you a house' works just fine)
- Interesting, well-developed characters (who say and do at least *a few* original things. The Dead Aunt can be one-dimensional, but the new hauntee needs to be well-developed)
- Pacing (steady build-up of tension and supernatural events); and a solid ending (so many fail here).

The Elementals does all of this very well. It's among the best haunted house books I know - not as scary as I'm searching for (still haven't found a legitimately scary one), but it stands head and shoulders above its fellows.

I'll be looking for more books by the same author.

PS, Check out The Good House by Tananarive Due. It meets the above criteria as well.

113 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good build up to a whole lotta not much.

I really love the atmosphere created the characters were solid and likable, in the narrator was awesome. I was waiting until the end for something to happen, for that "climax" point in the plot. The story kind of made its way there, attempted it, and then kind of meandered its way away from it, like driving too quickly past some kind of auto accident. If you like suspense, the whole book a suspense, you should like it. If you want answers, explanation or resolution, not the book for you.

48 people found this helpful

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Not worth the time

I do not understand all the high reviews. You find yourself just continuing to listen waiting for the story to start then once it does it finishes unexplained and underwhelming. Add to that a father pointlessly encouraging drug use and alcohol to his 13-year-old daughter. It is very clear the author could not keep his thoughts together to actually write this story. It is just a rambling of ideas pushed together into this book none of which support an intriguing story.

31 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Absolutely brilliant southern, gothic horror

Now...this is how its done. It's been about 6 months since I finished this book and it has stuck with me. It's one of the most complete suspense/horror books I've ever read. I would put it near Shirley Jackson's "Haunting of Hill House" (which is the top of the mountain for me). I've enjoyed other novels by McDowell, but this...this is a masterpiece. This is a complete, artistic vision and a beautiful love letter to southern, gothic horror. McDowell knows that the southern gothic genre is about big houses, big (sometimes unrealistic) personalities, old secrets, and new lies all percolating in the southern humidity and heat. In a more literary age, this novel would have inspired a renewed interest in gothic and southern gothic themes.

And to top all that off, R.C. Bray's narration is the best I have heard on any audiobook so far.

30 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Mildly Racist and a Bit Confusing

This book was entertaining enough, but I had to look up the publication date to confirm that it was not published in the 60's or 70's. McDowell actually referred to one of the main characters as a "negro"—not in a dialogue, either. Moreover, the main "pronoun" assigned to this character was "the black woman." I know that sounds bizarre. What's wrong with referring to an African American character as a "black woman"? The problem is that this wasn't a casual reference or necessary description. It was literally the pronoun he chose for this character—it was used on practically every page, sometimes even twice per paragraph (much like "she" or "her" would've been used). None of the white people in the book were called "the white man" or "the white woman," only this one character had a race assigned to them, and that constantly.

The other problem with this book was a knife ritual which appeared at both the very beginning and the very end of the book. I ended up with no idea why it was there, what it meant ,or what its purpose might be. All it did was confuse me.

The narrator did a good enough job with most of the accents.

23 people found this helpful

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Meh--well written, but no originality

I was really hoping for something more here, but despite the promising first few chapters, this book ended up being a standard, run-of-the-mill, color-by-numbers haunted house story. Sure, the idea of a possessed house set into the dunes of an Alabama beach sounded cool, but the author never did anything with it. The characters were not even two-dimensional--more like cardboard cut-outs of people just occupying space in the landscape. And the "final battle" between the good guys and the forces of evil was entirely lame and predictable.

All that being said, the book was well written, which made me kept hoping for something better to happen as each chapter clicked by. I reserve "one star" reviews for books so bad that I can't even finish them, and I did finish this one, so two stars it is.

20 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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awesome narrator

story was eerie and the narrator's depth of the characters made this a 5 star

13 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing novel by an all but forgotten author.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Just a small warning: there is a prologue in the original novel missing in this supposed unabridged audio version, which - in my opinion - is essential to the story.

<--ADDENDUM-->
The prologue has been added to the narration. Thanks!

Nevertheless, this is without a doubt one of the finest novels of the supernatural I have ever read. I recommend this highly. I read my own somewhat tattered paperback original every year, and will likely continue to do so.

<-- ADDENDUM 3.9.2019 -->

Although a long time in coming, I felt I needed to add a recommendation for R.C. Bray. His performance of the story was - for me - spot on, and for someone who has been reading this novel since publication, at least once a year, I can't commend him highly enough for his vocal interpretation.

104 people found this helpful

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"Savage Mothers Eat Their Children"


I had not experienced the horror writing of Michael McDowell, and readily admit I didn't recognize him by name. But that was yesterday.

"The Elementals" is among the finest horror novels I have ever read. Although written decades ago, this story can compete with today's bestsellers in the same genre.

McDowell captivates by opening with several generations of a southern family sitting in their living room and are told a horrific story regarding their ancestors. I will never, ever, forget it. I felt like McDowell had picked me up and dropped me onto their sofa.

There is a father/daughter relationship that brings witty humor into the story. Both of these characters are fleshed out and consistently captivating.

This book is raw, it's original, and it is frightening to the core. You would shelve this author between Stephen King and Clive Barker in the library of your mind.

99 people found this helpful

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Another amazing experience

This is the second novel by Michael McDowell which I've had the pleasure to experience. The first, Cold Moon Over Babylon, was just as good if not better. Both novels have exactly what I look for when I'm in the mood to escape reality - dark atmospheres, mystery with a hint of supernatural and characters so real they might as well be sitting beside you. Combine that with fluent and deeply descriptive prose and you have these two 5 star novels. Oddly enough, neither Scott Brick nor R.C. Bray have ever been on my list of likeable narrators. In the past I have found the gruffness of their voices too distracting, however, the ease at which they both were able to perform several characters with different voice inflections definitely gave me a new appreciation of their talent.

I don't want to go into the details of the story, but I don't really even need to. If you give this a chance, I promise within the first chapter you will be so hooked by the overall performance you won't care what its about, you'll listen just for the sheer pleasure of it.

Its a true shame that Mr. McDowell will never be writing another novel and that there aren't more of his other works available in audio format.

53 people found this helpful

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  • Sophie
  • 11-29-16

Fantastic Characters, Chilling Story, Excellent Narrator

If you love suspense, horror and the supernatural but can't stand a slow build up, this book is for you. By making you love the characters, it moves the story along without you noticing and makes you feel like something is about to happen at any moment.
Some genuinely funny moments as well, enhanced by the performers excellent southern drawl. Please listen to this- it's a superb piece of writing.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Kaggy
  • 11-17-16

Superbly creepy listen - highly recommended

I had never heard of this author but when I read that he was highly rated by Stephen King I really had to give this a listen. I was certainly not disappointed. This is like a Roger Corman film, scripted by Tennessee Williams and with elements of The Shining thrown in. From the very beginning, which opens with a very peculiar funeral, you know you are in store for something strange and genuinely disturbing, but what makes this exceptional are the vivid characters in the two families and their beguiling history.
I loved R C Bray reading The Martian and he gives another excellent performance here. Overall this is a real treat for fans of horror, American Gothic and almost anybody who likes a thumping good story.

13 people found this helpful

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  • BIG Walker
  • 03-30-17

Fascinating. Intriguing. Builds to a final WOW.

If you could sum up The Elementals in three words, what would they be?

Fascinating. Intriguing. Curious.

Any additional comments?

I HOPE I'm not the ONLY one who could not get past the father/daughter relationship with India and her father. It was incredibly strange and unsettling how that little part about the father taking pictures of India and letting his friends do the same "in pleasing poses". There is the scene where India wants her father to let her go into the third house. "C'mon, you can take the camera and take pictures of me in the sand, it'll be HOT". Anyone else catch all that?

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mark ODuffy
  • 05-01-17

Very good,

A few little niggles but nothing to put you off it or not to finish it. R.C Bray does his usual.

2 people found this helpful

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  • CS Ashton
  • 02-08-17

brilliant book! chilling and unnerving!

you won't be able to put it down. fantastic descriptions it gave me goosebumps! Read it!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ron
  • 02-05-17

What all ghost stories should aspire to

Proper creepy story telling without the usual silliness. Highly recommend this book! Its a keep you up till its finished read.

4 people found this helpful

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  • . Me
  • 05-21-20

Meh.

As much as I love R.C. Bray this was a very boring book. The scares were lacklustre and the elementals themselves were underwhelming and anticlimactic. Luker and Indias interactions kept me interested but ultimately I was just bored.

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  • Bri
  • 05-08-20

absolutely loved this

Gripping and unforgettable tale, there were parts that terrified and gripped me at the same time. Narrator was amazing and made the tale flow effortlessly, this was an amazing story and despite knowing the end I would listen to this again and again.

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  • Jimi B
  • 03-13-20

From 'definitely going to return this' to top ten!

Within minutes of starting this book I decided I was going to return it, the narrator's slow methodical pace really turned me off, and yet I kept on listening, suddenly those minutes had become and hour and I could feel a delightful tension as the narrator, in an almost blasé manner described awful goings on. His voices for the characters were fantastic, which leads me to beleive that the slow drawl with which he unfurls the environmental descriptions is actually a stroke of genius on his behalf (or maybe he's just great at voices?)

The plot is fairly plodding, but enough intrigue is dropped that it keeps you hanging on. The only criticism I have is that the antagonist horror is often described the same way, there's only so many times you can hear 'it's the opposite of whatever you think it is' in a different format before it wears a bit thin. Also it does indeed seem to be exactly what the reader thinks it is.

Other than that though I powered through this at a real pace, even sitting in the car a bit longer when I got to work to listen to the end of the current chapter.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-03-20

I loved it

Amazing story line, kept me on the edge of my seat and it’s an appropriate length so it’s not too drawn out, but not too rushed

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  • Peita Ball
  • 06-04-20

unexpected and quaint

a great read/listen. if you enjoy a good thriller and meandering southern story, you will enjoy this book

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-05-20

I very liked it

Listened to this after loving blackwater. Oh god, 7 words left. Slow burn, sand everywhere.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-02-18

A southern horror

Distinctly southern, McDowell captures hauntingly, the oppressive atmosphere of a summer in the south. In this classic haunted house story, McDowell explores the boundaries of the genre. Exploring what spirits are, where they come from, and what they can do. In this way, it's not necessarily the spirits that are the root of the horror, but the unknown.

While the characters are largely two-dimensional, narrator Bray lends them some complexity with his southern drawl. His cadence and pace in the different dialogues is what gives each character a distinct voice. In particular, the relationship between Luker and India. A pleasantly distracting read!

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  • Mill Carter
  • 12-13-16

A Real Find

If you love The Shining and The Cypher, but don't understand what the fuss is about Ghost Story, replace the latter with The Elementals and your faith in the horror genre will be restored.