New Treasures: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

New Treasures: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester

It’s great to be plugged into the industry, so I can hear what editors and publicists think are going to be the big books each season. And it’s incredibly helpful to be involved with a network of bloggers and reviewers who give me their take on the same thing.

But nothing beats hearing from readers — and what I’m hearing from readers is that John Darnielle’s modern horror novel Universal Harvester is the book that’s currently keeping them up at night. It’s available now in hardcover Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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.”

[Click the image to see the full cover.]

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.

So begins John Darnielle’s haunting and masterfully unsettling 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.

Universal Harvester was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on February 7, 2017. It is 224 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $11.99 in digital formats.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

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Allen Snyder

That had a good review, by Stephen King’s son no less, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review.

James McGlothlin

Just ordered my copy today!

James McGlothlin

I finished this book in one day! Gripping!

However, as Joe Hill notes in his review, this book probably shouldn’t be classified as horror. The ending defies that classification. However, for 97% of the book, the chill and creep factor is highly palpable. And I would definitely recommend this book to any horror fan. This is an author to keep an eye out for.

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