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Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge
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Dark Harvest

by Norman Partridge

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217953,683 (3.93)1 / 23
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Every year the people of the town lock their boys aged sixteen to nineteen in their bedrooms for five days without food then let them loose on the night of Halloween for the Run. The October Boy, a living, breathing scarecrow stuffed with candy and topped by a jack-o-lantern head, will try to make it to the church by midnight. Whatever teenage boy stops him is the winner and is allowed past the Line to escape from town. Pete is determined to win this year, but not everything about the Run is as it at first appears.

This short book told in an urban legend/campfire ghost story style is basically an allegory for being a teenager in a small town. While those emotions are palpable in the story and the narration style is enjoyable, I felt that the book left too many unanswered questions. It simply did not feel complete. Similarly, I do not like the title. Why didn't Partridge call it The October Boy? That's a much better title.

Overall, this is a fun, quick horror story told in an intimate, urban legend style. Due to its themes, it will work best for teenagers, but adults who vividly remember those emotions will probably enjoy it as well.

Check out my full review: http://wp.me/pp7vL-AR ( )
  gaialover | Oct 12, 2011 |
I had no idea who Norman Partridge was when I picked up Dark Harvest. It was the cover that caught my eye (as so happens with books!). That image of a Jack o' Lantern-headed scarecrow, eyes and mouth glowing with an inner fire, making his way through a cornfield completely caught my imagination and I had to know what this story was about.

Reading Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest was a pleasant surprise. Well, not a pleasant surprise, since a story about a living scarecrow who is trying to make his way to the small town church before midnight on Halloween, while all the boys in the town, who have been locked up for five days with no food, are set loose to try and kill him... well, that story really can't be all that pleasant, now can it? However, what surprised me so much was how strongly I was pulled into this story.

Every Halloween in this small town in the middle of nowhere, the October Boy is raised from the cornfields and makes his way towards town. For the previous five days, all the boys from sixteen to nineteen have been locked up, with no food, awaiting their release out into the Run, hunting the October Boy before he can make his way to the church. Whoever kills the October Boy gets a free ride out of town, and his family are showered with gifts, a new house, no bills, for that entire following year, until the next Halloween comes around and the cycle starts all over again. Part of why I loved this book is that there is no explanation as to why things are this way in this unnamed town. Why is the October Boy raised every year? Why can't the residents leave, or why are they not allowed to leave town? What will happen if the October Boy actually reaches the church? What are the consequences of this? None of these questions are truly answered, simply hinted at, yet you don't doubt the importance of any of the actions of the townsfolk, or the October Boy. You simply accept that this is the way things are, and this is how the story has to unfold, and you carry on with the story. And not having to answer these questions is, at least to me, what makes Partridge such an impressive, new-to-me author.

The characters are sympathetic; they could be anyone that you know in any small town. The small town could be like any other small town in America. Yet, there is something evil and unsettling just under the surface, something that these people have come to understand and respect in their own way. You as the reader accept these things too, however unpleasant that they may be, and will keep reading to find out more. As the secrets of this small town start to unravel, you will feel even more sympathy for them, and yet find revulsion at the same time. And you'll still want more. This is a quick read, but one that will leave you wishing there were more to the story, wanting to know what happens next, what the ultimate fate of the October Boy and this small town will be.

I will definitely be on the look out for more by Norman Partridge. Recommended. ( )
1 vote tapestry100 | Oct 8, 2010 |
It's 1963. Halloween night in a small Midwestern town. Out in a barren field where a lone pumpkin grows into the old clothes of a scarecrow, a mysterious man carves a face into the pumpkin, stuffs the body with candy, and hands the knife to this new creature, watching as the October Boy shakily makes his way toward town with only one thought on his mind.

Meanwhile, the town's 16- and 17-year old boys, freed from their 5-day prisons without food, are let loose upon the town, their sole mission to stop the October Boy from reaching its destination. Whoever stops the October Boy has a free ticket out of town with his family earning all sorts of monies and distinctions. No one knows this better than Pete McCormick, whose drunk, deadbeat Father gave up on him and his sister years ago. Stopping the October Boy will free him from the prison his life has become in that small Midwestern town.

When Pete runs into Kelly Haines, the only girl running around this Halloween night, who should be inside away from the insanity that fuels the young men of the town, he learns some hard truths about the October Boy and the townsfolk who set the boys after him. And what he decides to do with that information will change the town forever.

The October Boy is supposed to be the evil creature, ready to hack and kill to get what he wants so I automatically distrust him. It's what I'm supposed to do. But author Norman Partridge surprises me with this story by tossing in an atypical twist or two, forcing me to figure out for myself just who the "bad guys" truly are. I enjoy that about this story, one that challenges me to see what's in front of me in a different light. And with touches resembling Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree", the tale involves the reader, making him or her a character with a knowing wink as to what's really going on behind the scenes in the little town.

"Dark Harvest" offers a violent, bloody and horrific Halloween treat, fit for anyone who loves their horror with a twist. ( )
  ocgreg34 | May 29, 2010 |
Originally posted on my review blog, Stomping on Yei, at http://yetistomper.blogspot.com/2010/01/yetireview-dark-harvest.html

30 Words or Less: Portraying a dark, violent Halloween night from sunset until the church bell chimes midnight, Dark Harvest is small-town-American horror dripping with strong evocative prose.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Good: Fantastic, almost lyrical prose full of rich detail and unexpected but suitable metaphors; Narrative voice is perfect for the tone and content of the story; Story is a twisted riff on the realities of small-town America.

The Bad: Tone of the novel is set up and then changed very quickly; Somewhat out of season at the moment

In the 20 years or so that make up my reading career, I haven’t sampled much horror. After finishing Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest: I have to ask myself: “Why the hell not?” It's simply not a book I would normally pick up. The sub-200 page book concerns an annual tradition in Anytown, U.S.A. in which the local teenage boys attempt to stop a possessed pumpkin creature from reaching the bell tower in the local church before the stroke of midnight. Stop him and you earn your freedom from the drudgery of small town America. But the contest isn’t without risk: the October Boy is born with a blade in his hand and revenge in his heart. At a basic level it sounds like a bad horror movie you might end up watching on some third rate cable channel. A possessed Jack-O-Lantern wielding the knife used to carve his face? Really…?

As I said, not my typical read. But horror author and interview subject Joe Schreiber spoke highly of the book. It was short and it was different, so I figured why not? After reading about three or four pages, I was hooked. Partridge’s prose is some of the best I have ever read. It’s fast paced and somewhat abstract but it works. The simple opening sequence of a mysterious stranger cutting the October Boy loose and bringing him to life is utterly captivating. I wish I had more technical expertise to describe what exactly Partridge does but it really reads like it was spoken out loud. And it should be. (I would pay good money to hear Neil Gaiman read this story to me.) The simple yet evocative prose coupled with a strange blend of 2nd and 3rd person narration makes it feel like you are hearing some dark legend whispered over stale beer in dirty glasses in the back corner of some poorly lit no-name bar. Something that happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. You aren’t reading the story, you’re part of it. With his hybrid narration, Partridge assures the reader that they know this town, they lived there, they hunted Ol’ Sawtooth Jack, and they even won the contest years before.

As the story gets going and Partridge’s everyman protagonist, Pete McCormick, sets his mind on the big orange pumpkin prize, the story quickly begins to accelerate, almost to my dismay. The flavor of the story is so strong and delicious that you don’t want to get to the end, instead savoring each page of twisted metaphor and almost lyrical word play. I said before that the plot sounds like something right out of the DVD clearance bin the day after Halloween. It does start out that way but Partridge’s writing is so impressive that you end up not caring. The whole book could have been that simple as long as it was written as well as the first chapter. But the plot gets thicker...

As you (and Pete) slowly learn more about the origins of the October Boy and the town’s sinister secrets, Dark Harvest gets darker. Under a fairly simple presence lurks a much more robust story, one I wasn’t expecting when I opened the cover. It’s not that the new direction is bad (quite the opposite) it’s that I was enjoying the straight forward story of predator versus predator so much that I would have liked to spend more time with it before it moved into second gear. The first encounter that the October Boy has with a group of over zealous teenagers is so strong that I wanted to see the October Boy make his way through obstacle after obstacle. To continue the food analogies, the main course may be delicious but I’m still going to be a little pissed when you take away my appetizer before I’m done with it. I don’t know if its necessarily a fault of the novel but the change in tempo did jolt me out of the story for a few pages before I got used to the new rules and the prose sucked me back in. Soon enough you find yourself watching all the players converging on the town church with only minutes to spare.

By the end of the relatively short book, I was extremely satisfied. While the prose was worth reading and rereading, the story continues to move forward aggressively without become lost. I can't name another book that had such strong prose and moved at such a tremendous pace. Dark Harvest is ultimately a blend of many thematic elements ranging from teen angst and pulp horror to small-town monotony and revenge fantasy. Partridge does a fantastic job mixing these elements together into a dark but extremely satisfying tale. Apart from a brief hiccup which was most likely the fault of my expectations rather than Partridge’s weakness, I highly recommend Dark Harvest. Although you might want to wait until next October, you won’t look at a pumpkin or a piece of candy the same way again. ( )
  pmwolohan | Jan 7, 2010 |
A nifty little Halloween tale. Not as scary or creepy as I hoped it would be. Reminded me of Shirley Jackson's THE LOTTERY. All in all , a good tale and a fast read. ( )
  silversurfer | Oct 8, 2009 |
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For Ed Gorman
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A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born here.
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They call him the October Boy, or Ol' Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. Rising from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in hand, he makes his way towards town. Both the hunter and the hunted, he is the prize in an annual rite of life and death.… (more)

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