Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

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


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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.

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.

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