I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a glorious cover. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with flying in the face of the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” in my opinion, especially when it’s for John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester, a glorious anodized looking thing which calls to mind a washed out ’70s psychedelic vibe, the colors layered over a cornfield ready to be shorn of its produce. Strangely haunting, one look saw Universal Harvester make its way onto my Amazon wishlist almost before I’d read the synopsis. It also helped that the novel is the second by John Darnielle — brainchild behind the Mountain Goats, whose work I admire — though I must confess this is my first foray into his literary work.
Universal Harvester follows Jeremy, a motherless 20-something guy working at a video store, with little desire to move on. He has a quiet life and an unassuming relationship with his dad with whom he still lives, eating tacos and chilling out with beers, comfortably watching films together. It all seems to suit him just fine. This quiet life of Jeremy’s is disturbed, however, when during one of his shifts at the store a woman returns a video, which she mentions cuts to another movie halfway through. The spliced movie — or movies, as it later turns out — are unsettling; images of people with sacks over their heads standing on one leg, or lying in a heap, the videographer rarely shown but always present, their breath casting an eerie soundtrack to the footage. Jeremy, along with store owner Sarah Jane, don’t want to get involved with the tapes, fearing what will happen if they do, but quite rightly can’t seem to get the images out of their heads. Should they risk their quiet lives to find out what how the tapes came to be, or ignore them and stick with their peaceful lives? [Read more…]