Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

Book - 2017
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Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa in the late 1990s, and he has a problem--someone is altering the video tapes, inserting poorly lit home video scenes which are odd, sometimes violent, and deeply disquieting. There are recognizable landmarks from just outside of town. As Jeremy investigates, he becomes part of an impossible search for something someone once lost--and would do anything to regain.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780374282103
Branch Call Number: FIC DARNIEL 2017
Characteristics: 214 pages ; 22 cm


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Feb 28, 2021

I was actually really disappointed with this book once I finished it. It doesn't come together. If you do read it, I would advise you to not try to "figure it out." It's not worth the investment of time because things don't really make sense in the end. (That said, even in this book John Darnielle is very good at articulating the essence of transient moments, those things that you've noticed and felt but never really had words for.) I love "Wolf in White Van." So, if you want a better book by John Darnielle read "Wolf in White Van."

Jun 04, 2020

Like the main character, you're probably better off not bothering. Comes off at first as a horror or thriller and the genre swerves so hard into a meandering literary piece it's like two stories crammed into one book. No satisfying pay off and just when things start to really get exciting it all loses steam and leaves you with nothing but disappointment and a waste of your time.

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.

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