[Review] Incubus written by Ann Arensberg

Title: Incubus
Author: Ann Arensberg
Publisher: Open Road Media
Date of Publication: 8 July 2014
Number of Pages: 323

Rating: 2 stars (barely)

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: National Book Award winner Ann Arensberg brings readers a modern horror story about evil descending on an insular Maine town.

It begins with the theft of six candles from the church altar, a few herbs found strewn in the local graveyard. In the summer of 1974, the prosperous farming community of Dry Falls, Maine, is hit by a brutal heat wave. Crops fail. Drought blights once-verdant lawns. Men inexplicably lose all interest in sex, while women complain of erotic nocturnal visitations. Farm animals give birth to monstrosities. An unholy, unimaginable force is disrupting the natural order—and it seems to be specifically targeting Dry Falls.

Narrated by the careful and practical Cora Whitman, wife of the town pastor, this tale of creeping strangeness quickly turns sinister. Incubus subtly builds to its shattering climax with Cora at its epicenter. Expertly interweaving themes of faith, religion, and marriage with that of the supernatural, this modern horror classic will enthrall fans of Ann Arensberg and attract a legion of new readers. Goodreads

Review: I have a rule; no books with less than a 3 star average on Goodreads go on my “to read” list. My backlog is always over 100 and this is my small way of attempting to have some sort of order.

In reading Incubus I have broken my rule. Incubus has a Goodreads rating of 2.73 and I have a feeling this rating has dropped in the time I’ve been reading. I should have obeyed my rule.

Incubus: def: a male demon who appears to women for the purpose of sex.

Imagine where a writer could take you with this as a primary theme. Imagine the book Dean Koontz or Stephen King would create. Unfortunately, they haven’t written this book and Incubus is soporific and tedious and a great idea poorly executed.

There are long passages, sometimes pages of text leading no where and explaining nothing. There is also a weakness in Arensberg’s connecting sentences and idea – one idea leaps into another idea and it is not always coherent. At location 2830 there are three paragraphs, for three separate ideas that do not, in the end, link together or progress the story. It is hard work being forced to loop back to an idea, sometimes many chapters back, just because the author is being clever and taking multiple, pointless tangents.

I found myself growing bored with the monotony of the mundane which the author manages to maintain into the climax. I don’t believe in Cora as a reliable, or more importantly, interesting lead character and I don’t believe, she or the other dull characters of this book, provide a solid base for an entire work of fiction. Combine this with a number of non-essential characters, discussion of the heat, plants and gardens and Incubus becomes further unwieldy.

Henry, local parish priest, seems disconnected and I think this is because he is under developed as a lead character. The reader learns he had a vision from God during his time serving in the army in WWII and that this lead him to taking vows. During the rest of the story, it seems as though he is more atheistic than religious; a man going through the motions. While this is a realistic idea it seemed strange for the setting. I can’t make comment on the other characters as they had little development and blended into a single voice.

If we take a moment now to consider the writing in terms of dialogue, another issue is discovered. The language within many of the conversations is stilted and does not reflect real dialogue. At location 1514 Cora tells her mother “I can give you three hours a week. Would that be a help right now?” when discussing her garden. It seems odd that a daughter, with such a seemingly happy relationship with her mother, would say this.

The other stylistic element I’m noticing in more novels than Incubus, is the tendency for the dominant character voice to call their parent by Christian name. I would like to discover why this is happening. Is it because the author wants, simply, to make this change or is it because the author doesn’t think we will remember who “mum” is? In the case if this novel, we only hear Cora’s voice so this element is unnecessary.

Then there are the grammatical problems. The author writes “…reminded them of their ancestral home in the Indian Ocean” (location 1961) referring to roses which would have their ancestral home near the ocean, rather than in it. I realise this is pedantic but this is a constant error that an editor should have queried.

Incubus reads as a ‘cheap thrills’ kind of story – a half hearted attempt at erotica, thinly veiled as mystery. Incubus also makes me think of Joyce Carol Oates’ book The Accursed. There is a similar feel to the two books, though Oates’ book came out after this and, it has to be said, is far superior in all aspects.

I had been looking forward to reading this novel. The blurb caught my attention, as a blurb should but Incubus does not deliver on its promise. Next time, I will stick to my rule.

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