by Ann Arensberg ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 1, 1999
The territory that was long ago ceded to Stephen Kingâ€”ghostly goings-on in rural Maineâ€”is entered to stunning effect in this absorbing tale of demonic possession, by the author of Sister Wolf (1980) and Group Sex (1986). Pragmatic and "sensible" Cora Whitman, wife of Episcopal priest Henry Lieber, tells in retrospect the story of Henry's ministry in the town of Dry Falls, in south-central Maine, during the summer of 1974, when a killing heat wave and drought presage a frightening reversal of the natural order. Farm animals bear deformed offspring. A woman known to believe in the occult unaccountably "loses" part of a day. Two boarding-school girls playing at "witchcraft" see a mysterious figure lurking in a graveyard; "six girls" attending the same school are "discovered prostrate on their dormitory beds, naked and stupefied." A nude sunbather is attended by a large black dog that appears as if from nowhere. Husbands inexplicably take sexual leave of their wives; then, as suddenly, become sexually insatiable. And, despite her tartly declared "low threshold of tolerance for anything mysterious," Cora herself is "visited" by a presence whose shape and substance Arensberg teasingly discloses in a beautifully paced sequence of disturbingly hallucinatory scenes. But this is much more than a horror story. Henry Lieber's "calling" to serve God is itself an unexplained phenomenon, as is the sudden aridity that afflicts his marriage. Both he and Cora are fully imagined, complex characters, and Arensberg's unflinching analyses of their vacillating mutual understanding and intimacy, as well as of Cora's tense relationships with her troubled mother Emily and sister Hannah, imbue this vivid story with an overlay of psychological realism that makes its (genuinely) supernatural dimension all the more horrific and threatening. As much as it transcends its genre, this is nonetheless one of the finest contemporary novels of the supernaturalâ€”the best since Clive Barker's The Damnation Game. (Book-of-the-Month selection)
Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1999
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