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Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester (2017)

by John Darnielle

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1991559,063 (3.48)21
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    The Last Days of Video: A Novel by Jeremy Hawkins (sturlington)
    sturlington: These books are not at all alike except that they both feature small-town video stores, they are both by North Carolina writers, and they are both good reads.

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Universal Harvester was an odd book that sucked me right into it. John Darnielle has written a sort of horror story about Jeremy, who is working as an assistant manager at a video rental store when a few of the tapes appear with odd and frightening insertions in the middle of the VHS tapes. Looking more closely, the location of these clips is a farmhouse not to far from the small town of Nevada, Iowa.

The horror in this book is subtle, and is effective for most of the book. It's a masterclass in creating a feel of rising dread. Whether that creepiness is maintained as the origin of the clips is unveiled is debatable. Universal Harvester does succeed unreservedly in portraying a specific time and place and Darnielle's writing is never gets in the way of the story he's telling. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Jun 19, 2017 |
You may know John Darnielle as the front man of the Mountain Goats. What you may not know is that he is not only an author, but he is a great author.

With Universal Harvester, we see Darnielle's unique prosaic style, with a wide vocabulary and avid imagination. Harvester is a weird book, that is for sure, a thriller set in the farmland of Iowa, against the backdrop of a small town. Unexpected turns and a creeping sense of urgency pushes the story along, making it a book better finished in one to two sittings. ( )
  JaredOrlando | May 23, 2017 |
I have both not much and too much to say about this one, which ultimately just did not work for me, no matter how much I tried to like it. The story was disjointed and the ending an utter anticlimax. I think it was meant to be a creepy, atmospheric read, but that was continually undercut by Darnielle's writing choices. One chapter ends with the main character, Jeremy, headed off down a lonely Iowa country road to confront some mysterious people who may or may not be making some sort of snuff films; the next chapter opens several days later with Jeremy at home, perfectly fine. So when Darnielle backtracks to show the confrontation at the house, there is absolutely no suspense in it whatsoever because we already know Jeremy survives! Add in a long middle section flashback that added nothing worthwhile in my view and it all adds up to a lousy 2.5 stars for a book that I really wanted to like. ( )
1 vote rosalita | May 20, 2017 |
Nevada, Iowa. 26th best small town in America, according to a photo on Wikipedia. And the setting for this book.

The story starts very strong! Creepy images are showing up on videotapes at Video Hut, a rental place. Cool! But by the end of Part One, I was starting to drift. Part Two was a total snoozer. And then, it just totally fell apart. The story felt disjointed, uneven, and lost. I'm not sure what it was even about. I am shocked how quickly this book just fell apart. ( )
2 vote Stahl-Ricco | May 19, 2017 |
It's the 1990s in a small Iowa town where Jeremy works at a mom-and-pop video rental store when random videos start returning with other scenes spliced on to them. Jeremy and his boss are both disturbed and intrigued by the videos, with his boss recognizing a farmhouse near where she grew up. She confronts the current owner of the farmhouse, a woman whose mother left her as a child to follow in the footsteps of a religious cult.

So this book came with a lot of buzz, and a very intriguing article about author John Darnielle in Publishers Weekly prompted me to take an interest in reading it. I listened to the audiobook, well read by Darnielle and accompanied by original music at the end of each part.

While I found the book absorbing, I have trouble saying I liked it. It's strange and discomforting (and especially eerie when describing the homemade videos spliced into the rentals) but offers no real resolution at all or answers to specific things (e.g., I'm still unclear what happened with Ezra's car accident. Was it just a chance coincidence that he got into an accident precisely when delivering tapes back to the Video Hut? How was it that he got roped into that errand anyway? What did he know of what was going on at the farmhouse?). As for the "universal" of the title, yes, I suppose there are universal themes explored (acceptance, belonging, meaning, death, grief), but the specificity of the things that happen in this book make these seem unique rather than applicable to all.

That all being said, I do have to say the book held my attention closely for the most part (lost it a tiny bit with the introduction of the family set in the current time), even if I wasn't super thrilled by the vagueness at the end of it all. I could see this book making an interesting title pick for a book discussion group, as there is plenty of fodder for individual thoughts and interpretations. I'm not sure that I would recommend it generally though, given that it is unusual and sort of unsatisfying. ( )
1 vote sweetiegherkin | May 12, 2017 |
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But secret agents, like God, only give signs to their confidants. They are also very cruel and even unhappy at times. At any rate, they keep quiet. BENJAMIN TAMMUZ, Minotaur, translated from the Hebrew by Kim Parfitt and Mildred Budny
to Nancy Chavanothai: in loving memory
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People usually didn't say anything when they returned their tapes to the Video Hut: in a single and somewhat graceful movement, they'd approach the counter, slide the tape toward whoever was stationed behind the register, and wheel back toward the door.
That’s what pictures are for, after all: to stand in place of the things that weren’t left behind, to bear witness to people and places and things that might otherwise go unnoticed.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374282102, Hardcover)

Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa―a small town in the center of the state, the first “a” in Nevada pronounced “ay.” This is the late 1990s, and while 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 She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. But he takes a look and, indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly unsettling about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks much like a barn just outside of town.
There will be no ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 12 Sep 2016 22:31:56 -0400)

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