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on November 1, 1999
I had almost decided not to even attempt this novel after reading some of the other reviews on from readers. However, I have to say I disagree with the majority of reviewers. My theory: they all were looking for a "Horror" story filled with spirits, demons, etc. What they got was a character study on the lives in a small town, a look into spiritual beliefs and the wieght of personal relationships.
Much like Mr. Dobyns "Church of the Dead Girls," "Incubus" is more a social study of a small town when things go astray. There are definitly some eriee scenes and some strange happenings, but without the blood & gore of most horror novels today.
I would recommend this book but not as a horror novel. Instead, a novel that looks into Middle-America and small town life.
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on May 24, 2000
I had to add my two-cent worth and agree with those readers who reviewed this book and found it to be a wonderfully written novel of a woman's, and a towns, descent into hell. Arensberg has taken the myth of the incubus, (an evil spirit that lies on women in their sleep, pinning them down to have sexual intercourse with them), and has asked the question "What if?". What makes this story truly frightening is the way she blends the myth of the incubus into a 21st century setting, a small town in Maine in 1974. Told in retrospective by Cora Whitman, the wife of the local Episcopal minister, she begins to notice the subtle changes that are happening to the people of Dry Falls. But then things take a nasty turn, and Cora finds herself a victim of the evil that has settled over Dry Falls. Arensberg writes with a slow, matter of fact pace yet she is able to evoke a sense of doom and despair. She is a wonderful writer, the scenes she creates pull you in with characters that are real and fully developed. Arensberg has written a horror novel of a higher caliber, and she is one hell of a storyteller.
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on January 3, 2000
As opposed to the reviews given to a book I bought at the same time ("Wither" by Passarella)which claim that book as a "masterpiece" (and I think the average reviewer must be 16 years old), this book comes poorly reviewed in its wake.
This, from the very first lines is an anguish inducing, very haunting novel. Its only problem (in the eyes of the readers, I think) is that it lacks blood and gore and though it has an erotic undercurrent it also lacks sex, which is what most people associate with horror.
Cora's pilgrimage (so to speak) is actually a horrifying experience. Her life will NEVER be the same and that is what horror stands for: the utter, abrupt and irreversible change in our lives against our wills is what we fear the most. Ms. Arensberg creates a palpably (if slow-paced) atmospheric story, that uncoils in utter horror.
Nowadays a "good" horror novel must deal with vampires and/or killers, with lots of gore and smut... this on the other hand is a novel, and it is a supernatural horror odyssey too well crafted. Pity for those who couldn't get the point at all. It's like never knowing the difference between champagne and cheap fizz.
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on March 27, 2005
This eerie novel collects all the miscellaneous bits and pieces of lore about the incubus to fashion something quite frightening - and I've read a lot of horror novels. But since this is not a generic horror novel, there's a lot more going on in the book than that. There's the retelling of the Ceres/Demeter myth in the relationship between the narrator's mother and sister, for instance, which is wonderfully done and puts a whole new twist on the myth. There's the undependable narrator, a device I personally enjoy a lot. There's the depiction of a town populated by people engaging in all sorts of supernatural activities right under the narrator's nose - the narrator's mother is a hedge witch, the local private girls' school worships the Goddess, many characters use herbs for non-culinary purposes, etc. And there are a lot of wonderful echoes with Hawthorne.

The individual who carped about this novel's alleged "postmodern" discomfort with the hardshell duality of good and evil hasn't read many horror novels. The very exclusivity of those categories has been undermined in horror for a long time, maybe since the beginning of the genre. For evidence one only has to look at such longtime horror trends as the sympathetic vampire (and there is nothing whatsoever postmodern about those). But frankly, I did not see any blurring of the boundary between good and evil here in any case. The only blurring I saw was on the part of the narrator, who was unable to accept a manifestation as supernatural and instead had to see it as extraterrestrial.

This book did have trouble getting started, which might account for why some people thought it slow moving. Once it got going, it smoothed out. There were a lot of eerie moments crafted from ordinary things, such as a black dog that appears next to a sunbather. I thought the everyday details of life for a minister's wife added to the believability of the story, and I enjoyed how gardening was incorporated and made into a metaphor. Such use of realistic detail fits in well with the horror tradition, IMO. I enjoyed this book enough to want to read other novels by this author, even though they are not horror.
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on June 22, 2014
Ms. Ann Arensberg is a very smart writer who populates her story with some very interesting characters and loving descriptions of day to day activities in a small town during the 70's when a very strange phenomena occurs. Her style might be an acquired taste, as the horror elements are few and far between, but the interactions of the characters and the atmosphere of the town where the demon attacks keep you wondering how and when the monster spirit will strike next. I wanted to compare it to Ray Russell's 1970's take on the same theme, though Mr. Russell's tale is a very different beast, literally. His novel deals with the physical manifestation of a demon rapist, where as Ms. Arensberg's vision is that of a spiritual creature who alternately enthralls and debases the women via forced sexual pleasure. I found her character Cora to be one of the most interesting female protagonists in a horror novel I've encountered The descriptions and slow pace may put off some readers, especially horror fans who expect a jolt every few pages, but I think most readers will appreciate it's intelligence and slow burn. It creeps up on you, like a snake in tall grass.
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The character of our narrator, Cora, lends itself to her self effacing report of the summer of 1974 in a small town in Maine. In describing the "migrants from the night world", she creates an atmosphere of dread and psychic energy interacting with a scarcely credible source of malignant energy. To me, throughout the novel, the interest lies in the human characters in their search for meaning as an apparent incubus inhabits their village and terrorizes their women. Yet as the threat grows and proceeds, the interactions of the town's people proceed along their own familiar paths which color and shape their reactions.
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on March 29, 1999
This is a brilliant novel, which should not be pigeonholed in the "horror" genre or compared to anything by Stephen King. Ann Arensberg has written a perfect novel for 1999. For she writes, "there is a clandestine traffic from the underworld in every era, but particularly at the end of a millenium... The inhabitants of the underworld smell our panic..." This is a powerful, haunting, sexy book with plenty of commentary on religion and friendship and family life. And it is driven by a gripping plot about the supernatural invasion of a small town in Maine in 1974. Like Isabel Walker, the narrator of Diane Johnson's stunning novel "Le Divorce," Arensberg's narrator, Cora Whitman, is a lot more astute and knowing than she would have us believe. She is a cook, a gardener, and the wife of a minister-- all occupations that soothe us as she leads us into this macabre and disturbing tale of the supernatural. This is one of those rare books that signal to you that you are in the hands of a master writer. Highly recommended.
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on December 26, 1999
I hesitate to give an unfavourable review to any book; I know how difficult it is to gestate and finally give birth to any work in literature. I have no criticism for Ann Arensberg's prose; her writing is beautiful, her descriptions wonderfully evocative, the similes and metaphors fresh and original. Unfortunately, this is not enough. The story is so disjointed and rambling that after having read over half the book I have given up on it in dismay. This reminds me of the unfortunate experience of Infinite Jest: some parts of it were utterly brilliant, but the rest left the reader thumbing through scores of pages trying to find something meaningful. I happen to love reading good prose for its own sake, but it needs the support of well developed characters and/or a good story. There may very well be a good story in this book, but so far I haven't been able to find it, and the characters are not strong enough to carry us along on their own merit. As I aforesaid, I really dislike writing negative reviews, and would not even bother to do so if the writer of this book was simply a hack out to make a buck. But I can see that this is a carefully written story with little pockets of insight and even brilliance, but it lacks continuity and organization and, most importantly, focus. Ms. Arensberg, if you read this, I hope you don't take it in the wrong way. I advise you to look for a new editor, someone who can really help you without compromising your talent.
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on November 12, 1999
There should be an option for zero stars. BOMC called Ann Arensberg the female version of Stephen King. Don't believe it! I was highly disappointed with this book, in fact, I was angry when I finished it, for wasting the time and money, and for being duped in to thinking it would be entertaining. The premise was good, and the actual physical product was good, but the story was awful. I tore into the book thinking it would have frightening, yet titillating, parts, but Arensberg writes like a college professor. All wording, especially the descriptions of supposedly horrific events, is cold and clinical. The "climactic" ending is so poorly described, it leaves you wondering what happened, even after you read it again. The main character, Cora, is devoid of any emotion, regardless of the subject matter. Whether she's talking about her relationships with her mother and sister or her sexless marriage, she seems hard and unaffected. Her pastor husband seems to have little faith. At times the sentences do not flow well, and quotations are confusing; it is difficult to decipher which character said what. Too much emphasis is placed on the author's knowledge of plants, and not enough on the plot. I only kept reading with the hope that it would get better. It didn't.
I've read some bad books in my life, and I have to say this has been the worst. It makes me wish I had a fireplace.
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on December 7, 1999
I was scrolling through one of Amazon's lists when I noticed "Incubus." I couldn't believe that it had an average of two stars and was forced to submit a review. I thought the book was richly detailed, the characters realistically protrayed and the writing poetic. The portrayal of New England town life has rarely seen its equal since Hawthorne. Think of it as a Jane Hamilton novel with elements of the supernatural. Everything is in the details! This being said, readers searching for blood, gore, heroic battles between the Forces of Good and Evil, must look elsewhere.
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