Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

Book - 2017
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New York Times Bestseller

"Brilliant . . . Darnielle is a master at building suspense, and his writing is propulsive and urgent; it''s nearly impossible to stop reading . . . [ Universal Harvester is] beyond worthwhile; it''s a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction . "
--Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times

" Grows in menace as the pages stack up . . . [But] more sensitive than one would expect from a more traditional tale of dread."
--Joe Hill, New York Times Book Review

"The most unsettling book I''ve read since House of Leaves ."
--Adam Morgan, Electric Literature

Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut . So begins Universal Harvester , t he haunting and masterfully unsettling new novel from John Darnielle, author of the New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Nominee Wolf in White Van

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It''s a small town in the center of the state--the first a in Nevada pronounced ay . This is the late 1990s, and even if 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 a different tape, a new release, and says it''s not defective, exactly, but altered: "There''s another movie on this tape."

Jeremy doesn''t want to be curious, but he brings the movies home to take a look. And, indeed, in the middle of each movie, the screen blinks dark for a moment and the movie is replaced by a few minutes of jagged, poorly lit home video. The scenes are odd and sometimes violent, dark, and deeply disquieting. There are no identifiable faces, no dialogue or explanation--the first video has just the faint sound of someone breathing-- but there are some recognizable landmarks. These have been shot just outside of town.

In Universal Harvester , the once placid Iowa fields and farmhouses now sinister and imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. The novel will take Jeremy and those around him deeper into this landscape than they have ever expected to go. They will become part of a story that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain.

"This chilling literary thriller follows a video store clerk as he deciphers a macabre mystery through clues scattered among the tapes his customers rent. A page-tuning homage to In Cold Blood and The Ring. "
--O: The Oprah Magazine

"A stellar encore after the success of [Darnielle''s] debut novel, Wolf in White Van . . . Beneath the eerie gauze of this book, I felt an undercurrent of humanity and hope."
--Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post

"[ Universal Harvester is] so wonderfully strange, almost Lynchian in its juxtaposition of the banal and the creepy, that my urge to know what the hell was going on caused me to go full throttle . . . [But] Darnielle hides so much beautiful commentary in the book''s quieter moments that you would be remiss not to slow down."
--Abram Scharf, MTV News

" Universal Harvester is a novel about noticing hidden things, particularly the hurt and desperation that people bear under their exterior of polite reserve . . . Mr. Darnielle possesses the clairvoyant''s gift for looking beneath the surface."
--Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"[ Universal Harvester is] constantly unnerving, wrapped in a depressed dread that haunts every passage. But it all pays off with surprising emotionality."
--Kevin Nguyen, GQ.com

"Darnielle writes beautifully . . . He builds a deep sense of foreboding by giving pieces of the puzzle in such a way that you really can''t see the solution until that final piece is in place."
--Salem Macknee, News & Observer

Publisher: New York :, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,, 2017
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780374282103
Characteristics: 214 pages ;,22 cm


From the critics

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Aug 26, 2018

Why are all these at the downtown Library?

JCLIanH Jun 06, 2018

Haunting, beautiful, heartbreaking, deeply moving, basically all the things you have come to know and love and expect from a Mountain Goats record transferred into literature. John Darnielle's greatest gift is making these small, quotidian moments and places seem like the only moments ever experienced and the only places in the universe. There's so much care, and so much poetry put into his characters and the places they inhabit. There is real darkness, sure, but never so much that the light can't be let in when it needs to.

This is like any great Mountain Goats song: a strong beginning of haunting & unforgettable lyrics, then just putters out instead of ending. It's fine that isn't a horror read, but it's a middling attempt to break your heart. If you want sad, angry, beautiful, provincial stories of family relationships and loss, you're better off with "Malagash" by Joey Comeau, or Miriam Toew's "A Complicated Kindness".

Jan 02, 2018

An all-time favorite of mine, though I can understand it isn't going to appeal to everyone. The highlight is definitely the language and atmosphere of the work, which testifies to the author's history as a lyricist. This work plays with and subverts the tropes of puzzle-box horror stories, and in doing so may leave genre fans disappointed, but it certainly opens up onto interesting ruminations in the process. The setting is a richly evoked rural Iowa, beginning at a local VHS rental store in the 1990's, and the story is very aware of the awkward intersection between historical and contemporary that its subject material occupies, while also exploring both sides of this temporal divide in later acts as if seeking some impossible sense of closure.

If the structure of Darnielle's previous novel, Wolf in White Van, can be thought of as inverted (with one narrative thread told chronologically, the other in reverse), then Universal Harvester can be thought of as a spiral, or a widening gyre, rending itself apart as the work progresses. While I was left perplexed after an initial reading, I will say that this work has amply rewarded multiple revisitations as few others have, and for that reason I highly recommend it, especially to fans of weird fiction.

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.

OLATHEAllisonA 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_MegS 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.

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