Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
A Novel

71%

8 Critic Reviews

With a nod to urban legends and friend-of-a-friend tales, the author prepares readers for the surreal truth, the improbable events that “have form, and shape, and weight, and meaning.”
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

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, the 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...
 

About John Darnielle

See more books from this Author
John Darnielle is a writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats; he is widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and son.
 
Published February 7, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 224 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Horror, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for Universal Harvester
All: 8 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Above average
on Oct 26 2016

Darnielle’s prose is consistently graceful and empathetic, though plotwise the novel sometimes sputters...A smart and rangy yarn: file under suspense, horror, and domestic drama.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Dec 09 2016

With a nod to urban legends and friend-of-a-friend tales, the author prepares readers for the surreal truth, the improbable events that “have form, and shape, and weight, and meaning.”

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Barry Lee Dejasu on Feb 06 2017

Perhaps this book isn’t for everyone. Perhaps it doesn’t always succeed in achieving what it sets out to do. This will no doubt be a polarizing read, but perhaps that’s exactly what Mr. Darnielle put pen to paper to create.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Carmen Maria Machado on Feb 11 2017

Unsurprisingly, Darnielle's prose is lucid and precise, the sort of clear-eyed, knife-jab sentences that defined both his debut Wolf in White Van and his whole songwriting career.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from NPR

LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Michael Schaub on Feb 07 2017

Darnielle’s novel is beyond worthwhile; it’s a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from LA Times

AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Laura Adamczyk on Feb 06 2017

As in his songwriting, here Darnielle displays a big heart and a strong sense of place; with some refining on the page, those things could really sing.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from AV Club

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by ROBERT J. WIERSEMA on Feb 24 2017

Readers hooked by the premise, seeking a conventional horror novel, may be disappointed, but they’re missing out. The novel is better than scary: Universal Harvester is genuinely haunting.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from National Post arts

Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Colin Barrett on Apr 20 2017

Universal Harvester is a determinedly reticent, contained novel. It is shot through with a sense of lostness that its actual story only barely brushes against.

Read Full Review of Universal Harvester: A Novel | See more reviews from Guardian

Reader Rating for Universal Harvester
75%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 6 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review
×