Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

A Novel

Book - 2017 | First Canadian edition.
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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 . . .

Publisher: Toronto, Ontario : HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, [2017]
Edition: First Canadian edition.
ISBN: 9781443452724
Branch Call Number: FIC Darni
Characteristics: 214 pages ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

Mystery thriller. Brief, eerie footage begins turning up spliced into the VHS tapes at small-town Iowa video rental store. Is the footage connected to the darker parts of the town's history?

From the critics

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Nov 10, 2017

The subject heading "horror fiction" is misleading. The second novel from Mountain Goats singer/songwriter John Darnielle is fitfully engaging, but not as satisfying as his debut, "Wolf in White Van." It opens in a sleepy, rural Iowa town where strange scenes start showing up on video cassettes turned into the local rental shop. I was really hooked by the strange atmosphere and small town setting of the early chapters, but Darnielle didn't seem to know where to go with his plot and characters, and the second half is a bit erratic and not as strong. Still, if you liked his other book or you like his songwriting, there's enough in here to make it worth picking up.

Oct 20, 2017

Apparently this was marketed as a horror novel? Luckily I didn't know that so I was able to experience Darnielle's clear prose unencumbered by that expectation. Sure, there are creepy bits here and there, but mostly it's an examination of loss and how people deal with it. There are a few annoying MacGuffins sprinkled throughout that muddy some of the "mystery" you'll be tempted to unravel. I recommend just enjoying the emotion the text can bring to the surface and not waste your time trying to tie everything up in a tidy bow by the end of the book.

Aug 28, 2017

Not worthy of comment.

OLATHEAllisonB Jul 06, 2017

Mysterious and murky, this novel attempts to be profound about loss and grief, with some success. Darnielle maintains a bleak and haunting tone throughout the setting of small-town Iowa, and the mystery running as a common thread between the chapters has a surprising conclusion. At times, though, the language comes across as pretentious, rambling on without saying anything important. An occasionally interesting read, but not a memorable one.

CRRL_MegBingham Jun 22, 2017

Awesome read. Universal Harvester is a serious homage to David Lynch mysteries such as the newly revived Twin Peaks on the Showtime network, classic horror movies such as The Ring and David Cronenberg's Videodrome.

May 30, 2017

It is so hard to write a review about this book. It wasn't satisfying, memorable, or worthy of a recommendation.

SareM91 May 09, 2017

A slow-paced book about loss and longing. It says the genre is horror but it is not horror! So don't go into this thinking it's horror because you will be very disappointed.

Cynthia_N Mar 13, 2017

Eerie read! I must admit I feel like most of the readers who have reviewed this book, I'm just not sure whether I liked or understood it. That being said, it was a worthwhile read and I believe this would make a great horror movie.

Mar 10, 2017

A confusing plot. Love the setup and the location, but it was a slog to reach the middle. Not my cup of tea.

LPL_DirectorBrad Dec 30, 2016

I am not certain I even know how to review this book, but I could not put it down. The story is creepy yet in the most subtle and mellowest sense. The writing is quite plain yet mesmerizing. As the book moves beyond the creepy set piece of its first part, it becomes less creepy and begins to open up into a larger narrative. There is a vagueness as to what may or may not be going on in this novel that allows it to expand in your mind and let you come to your own conclusions as to what you're reading. I still don't quite know how to process Universal Harvester, but needless to say, it's fantastic second novel by Mr. Darnielle.

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