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Universal Harvester: A Novel

John Darnielle

9,432 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 1443452726 / ISBN 13: 9781443452724
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2017
Condition: Good Soft cover
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Title: Universal Harvester: A Novel

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication Date: 2017

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition: Good

About this title


Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa—a small town in the center of the state, the first “a” in Nevada pronounced “ay.” This is the late 1990s, and while the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. But he takes a look and, indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly unsettling about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks much like a barn just outside of town.

There will be no ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .


An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: In Nevada, Iowa, in the late 90s, someone is splicing creepy home footage into the videocassettes rented from the Video Hut. You might be enjoying a Boris Karloff classic with some popcorn when the narrative is disconcertingly interrupted by a few moments of someone breathing heavily in the dark, or maybe something more sinister waits for viewers of She’s All That. And despite obvious reservations, Jeremy, treading water as a clerk following his mother’s sudden death years earlier, can’t stop watching. A few of the clips seem to betray local landmarks, and what self-respecting meddling kid could resist checking it out? This may sound like the set-up for a good thriller, but Universal Harvester is much stranger than that. Darnielle – whose unorthodox debut novel, Wolf in White Van, was nominated for the National Book Award – has written an understated slow burn of a book, lean on plot but dense in mood and dread. Darnielle is more interested in what ferments in the dark corners of our universal experiences – how we cope with loss and absence and the ways that they bend us, the peculiar ways we become bent. In fact, if ambiguity isn’t your thing, you might look elsewhere. People might be filming unnerving things in dilapidated, farm country outbuildings, but the pat, Psycho-style explanation is not forthcoming. Universal Harvester is like a David Lynch adaptation of a Marilynne Robinson novel, where manicured grass is replaced by fields of corn, but the bugs squirming beneath are the same. --Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review

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