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Universal Harvester: A Novel

Universal Harvester: A Novel

Автором John Darnielle

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Universal Harvester: A Novel

Автором John Darnielle

3.5/5 (24 оценки)
235 pages
3 hours
Feb 7, 2017


New York Times Bestseller

"A moving, beautifully etched picture of America’s lost and profoundly lonely." —Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day and winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature

“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

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

“[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 posse

Feb 7, 2017

Об авторе

JOHN DARNIELLE’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award nominee and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and was widely hailed as one of the best novels of the year. He is the writer, composer, guitarist and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and sons.

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Universal Harvester - John Darnielle




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 tapes toward whoever was stationed behind the register, and wheel back toward the door. Sometimes they’d give a wordless nod or raise their eyebrows a little to make sure they’d been seen. With a few variations, this silent pass was the unwritten protocol at video rental stores around the U.S. for the better part of two decades. Some stores had slots in the counter that dropped into a big bin, but Nevada was a small town. A little cleared space off to the side of the counter was good enough.

Bob Pietsch was renting Advanced Big Game and Best of Bass Fishing Volume Four today; he stood there now, at the counter, patient, semimonolithic. He stopped in sometimes on his way home from the co-op; any tapes he rented he’d keep for a week. Stephanie Parsons was in line behind him; Jeremy could see her back there, looking mildly anxious, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

Bob spent most of the year by himself in a farmhouse on a property he owned outside Collins. If he still hunted or fished, it wasn’t with anybody he’d known back when he lived in town: nobody really knew what Bob did with his time. People talked a little about him, out there all by himself; it was hoped he’d remarry. But he’d sold the family home after his wife died, and the Collins place was pretty remote. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to meet people. When he made conversation these days he sounded like a farmer at an auction waiting for the bidding to start.

This one’s a real good one, he said, tapping Best of Bass Fishing Volume Four. They get smallmouth, they have to throw half of them back.

Ever get up to Hickory Grove? Jeremy asked him. He had lived in Iowa all his life. Men in his family always talked about fishing.

Used to. All the time, said Bob. We used to go out for bluegill in the winter.

Sure, said Jeremy. It continued like this for a minute. Bob eventually dug his Video Hut membership card out from behind his driver’s license and signed for the tapes. His card was one of the old laminated ones; it had gone yellow at the edges. Membership cards were really a formality at this point, but Jeremy let him show it anyway.

Stephanie waited as Bob made his way slowly past the shelves and out the door before stepping up to the counter. She didn’t set her tape down; instead, she held it in her hand, chest-high, a little away from her body.

There’s something on this one, she said.

Jeremy reached for the tape; he recognized it. He’d circled its title when the distributor’s catalog was making the rounds about a year ago. Everybody who worked the counter had a say in what got ordered; Sarah Jane, who owned the place, had implemented this system when she took over from the previous owner. She was privately proud about it. As a younger woman she’d worked retail for years.

Oh, yeah, he said, turning toward the shelves behind him, several hundred videotapes in clear cases and a few dozen in translucent pink: soft adult movies that hardly anybody ever rented. Sorry. It sounded really good in the catalog but it’s really old, right? It was called Targets. It had Boris Karloff.

Stephanie looked a little blankly at Jeremy, measuring him, then said: No, it’s a great movie, I’ve seen it before. At school. Stephanie’d taken a masters in education from the University of Chicago; she made mention of it when she could. It’s the tape, there’s something on it.

I can credit your account, said Jeremy.

Stephanie put on her measuring face again and seemed to decide Jeremy wasn’t going to understand. No, it’s fine, she said. Never mind. Maybe tell Sarah Jane about it, though, OK?

Sure thing, said Jeremy. He felt stupid: he wasn’t stupid, but he found Stephanie intimidating, and he didn’t know how to talk to her. He told himself as he put the display case back on the rack that he’d remember, but he closed the store himself that night, and didn’t see Sarah Jane until Monday, and by then he had forgotten.

*   *   *

Steve Heldt was reattaching a rain gutter to the awning over the front door when Jeremy got home after dark; he’d turned on the floodlight on the side of the garage. His breath in the glare made giant clouds.

Jeremy parked in the driveway and stepped out. Maybe wait until morning? he said. His voice came out solitary, singular in the February air. Dad was in his boots up on the ladder, continuously adjusting his perch as he worked.

Not today, big man, Steve said. Jeremy’d been big man ever since the day he’d helped his father change a tire when he was eight years old. It’s going to snow all night. If it warms up after noon this thing’ll fall right off.

The gutter wasn’t going to fall right off if they waited until daylight to fix it: Steve knew it, Jeremy knew it. But they also both knew to keep busy in winter if they could. Mom had gone off new Highway 30 into a telephone pole in the snow six years ago, in 1994. Jeremy’d been sixteen.

He put his gloves back on and held the ladder while his dad drove in the nails. There wasn’t much wind but a little breeze, maybe; it moved the snow around at his feet. Get home late today? he said.

No, said Steve. Just didn’t think of it until after dark. Saw the forecast. Then there wasn’t much else to say, and the hammer pounding dully became the only sound you could hear in the neighborhood besides the occasional creak of a branch.

*   *   *

Later on they watched Reindeer Games: Jeremy brought home new releases when they were something his dad might like. Spy stuff. Cop movies, sometimes. They got a late start because of the rain gutter; the movie wasn’t over until nearly midnight.

They both found Reindeer Games confusing, and their attention wandered as it ran. They talked through the slow parts. Afterwards they tried to answer each other’s questions about it, but they couldn’t get it straight. Then Dad started in about the job.

There’s soil labs, water labs right here in town, he said.

Dad, said Jeremy. I have a job.

Sure. Not a whole lot in it, though, you know.

I know. He picked up the remote and hit REWIND. You’re right. I don’t know.

Well, I saw some postings, anyway.

I was thinking about starting DMACC next semester.

Well, you said that last year, though.

The VCR auto-ejected and Jeremy put the tape back into its case. I know, he said. You’re right.

In some versions of this story, there’s an argument here, because Jeremy feels like his father is being nosy, and because he feels ashamed of being twenty-two years old and not having made anything of himself yet; he’s resentful when something reminds him about it. In these variations Jeremy tells his father to give him a little breathing room, and Steve Heldt, who is a good father and who shares, with his son, an incapacitating loss, thinks to himself: Stay out of your son’s way; he’ll find his way if you let him. In some other versions Jeremy stays awake for a couple of hours, maybe watching another movie he brought home but unable to focus on it, and in the morning he tells his father to write down some of those job listings, and he ends up getting a position at a soil testing lab in Newton, eventually transferring to a bigger lab back home in Nevada.

In this version he keeps his job at the Video Hut, and then something else happens.


Story County was prairie until the mid-1800s. In school they taught a little about the Iowa tribes, but it was hard to get a clear picture of who exactly’d been in Story County when the settlers got there. There had to have been somebody, though. That word Iowa, that was a native word, and lots of places throughout the state were named after tribes: Sioux City. Tama. Black Hawk. Plus it was a known thing that tribes had been removed from their land all over the state at some point during the westward expansion. But they didn’t really dwell on this too much in high school, so all Jeremy really had was a rough outline. Few details, or none.

About his own family, where they were from, he knew a little more; when his grandparents or his aunts and uncles got together on the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving it was pretty much all they talked about. All conversations tended toward simple genealogy and geography: who was related to whom, who lived where now, where they’d lived in the first place. There was a numbing comfort to it. These conversations, endlessly repeatable at any family gathering, were a zero-stakes game. Is Pete still in Tama? No, he got a job over in Marshalltown working in sales for Lennox. Is that the air-conditioning people? Well, Pete says climate control. Oh, climate control, is that it? Sure, sure.

Tracing of movements was the whole of the process. If the recruiter from Caterpillar collared Mike at the job fair and offered to double his salary inside of two years, then that was how Mike and his family ended up in Peoria: but simple movement atop a shared, internalized map was still the heart of the action, the desired point of engagement. Bill’s up in Storm Lake now. Did he sell the Urbandale place? The place off Seventy-second? No, that was a rental. Oh, is that right? Yes, the Handsakers owned it, they rented it out for years until their youngest got back from Coe. You mean Davy? Well, but he goes by Dave now. From Davy to Dave to Dave’s parents to their folks you could get a fair bit of talking done, but the trail went cold at about that point. Jeremy’s mom’s grandparents were Russian somehow, one of those places that wasn’t really Russia any more. His great-grandfather on his dad’s side had come from Germany. But it went no further than that. The tracking of local movements was sufficient work until it came time to part ways, and they’d pick up where they left off at Labor Day, or Christmas.

By the time he was fourteen, Jeremy could locate magnetic north from practically any place in Story County, even in the total absence of known landmarks. Knowing where you were: this seemed like a big part of the point of living in Nevada, possibly of being alive at all. In the movies, people almost never talked about the towns they spent their lives in; they ran around having adventures and never stopped to get their bearings. It was weird, when you thought about it. They only remembered where they were from if they wanted to complain about how awful it was there, or, later, to remember it as a place of infinite promise, a place whose light had been hidden from them until it became unrecoverable, at which point its gleam would become impossible to resist.

*   *   *

Video Hut opened at ten in the morning, which was ridiculous. Anybody returning tapes before mid-afternoon just used the slot in the door, and hardly anybody ever came in to rent before noon at the earliest. Still, there’d be one person sitting behind the counter just in case, waiting for the store’s day to actually begin. Sometimes hours would pass.

There was a television mounted above the racks in one corner of the store. During shop hours it showed movies continuously. By policy, these had to be movies with a PG rating or lower. Picking out the movie and starting it up was one of the duties listed on the A.M. OPEN sheet, a six-point list printed on neon-green paper and affixed to the counter by the register with clear tape whose corners had frayed and blackened over the years:

1.  lights front and back

2.  power up register

3.  count cash on hand in strongbox, record in notebook and move to register

4.  file slot returns, return cases to displays

5.  pick tape (PG or lower) for in-store, start up computer

6.  check database for tapes overdue 3+ plus days and make phone calls

The list was there to make the opening routine look like work, though in practice it took Jeremy about five minutes altogether. He went to the computer before even turning on the lights; it was a Gateway 2000. Gateway’d still been a more or less local company when the computer was new; it creaked through its start-up routine for a full five minutes now. By the time it was ready to use, Jeremy’d gone through everything else on the list except the overdues. He wasn’t going to call anybody about overdues before noon, anyway.

Underneath the counter there were six or seven tapes that got played in rotation—this was the pick tape step, almost entirely mechanical. The Muppet Movie, Bugsy Malone, A League of Their Own, Star Wars: most people working the opening shift just grabbed one without looking. There were a couple of newer ones that got traded in and out from month to month. Jeremy usually went for these, keeping the sound muted until customers started showing up.

He had Reindeer Games in his hand when he got to the store, so he put it on with the sound down and paid it no mind, letting it run while he leafed through a summer courses catalog from DMACC. Joan from Mary Greeley stopped in to trade out a couple of exercise tapes for new ones; the hospital got these tapes for free, which was fine, since nobody else rented them. Joan used them for classes on the convalescent ward. She came up to the counter and nodded over her shoulder toward the screen overhead: the picture went black and white for a second as Jeremy looked up, then stabilized.

Not expecting a lot of customers today? she said. Charlize Theron was in a swimming pool untying her bikini.

What? Oh. Sorry, sorry, said Jeremy, reaching for the remote.

Joan laughed. No, it’s fine. He stopped the tape just as things were starting to get explicit. Sorry, I watched this last night, I don’t know what I was thinking.

It’s fine, said Joan again, nodding encouragingly; Jeremy’s face was flushed. I’m forty-six, I’ve seen it all before.

No, I know, I just—wasn’t thinking, he said. He grabbed the two new exercise tapes from the shelf, brow still furrowed.

You OK?

Yeah, yeah, he said, shaking his head like a cat waking up. I don’t think I slept well. Fell asleep on the couch.

Happens to me all the time! said Joan, signing the rental slip with its crossed-through zero in the amount column and sliding her new tapes into her puffy oversized purse.

Yeah, said Jeremy, me, too, which wasn’t true. Neither was the part about falling asleep on the couch; he didn’t know why he’d said it. He was off his rhythm.

See you next week, said Joan.

All right, said Jeremy, and that sounded wrong, too.

*   *   *

The rest of the day was a winter day at a video store in the late 1990s: long stretches without any customers, a big rush between 5:30 and 7:00 as people were getting off work and heading home, and then the slowdown. Lindsey Redinius brought back a copy of She’s All That during the rush and said there was something wrong with it, that the movie cut out at some point, turned into something different and came back later. Jeremy set it aside. This was the second complaint about a tape in two days. Maybe they were making tapes from cheaper materials now? DVD players were supposed to be the next thing.

He looked around the store as he was shutting down. It was a heated Morton building, same materials they used for barns now: the same building exactly, just with different stuff in it. In the dark you could see how temporary it was. He rifled through the returns bin and grabbed another tape in case he couldn’t sleep, and he stopped at Taco John’s up the street for a family value pack. Then he got onto old Highway 30 and headed for

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  • (3/5)
    The first section really creeped me out, but the story got jumbled and went downhill from there.
  • (2/5)
    I had high hopes for this but was sorely let down.
  • (4/5)
    Well-written, but strange and unsettling. Not quite sure what to make of it, but it had me under its spell nevertheless.Please note: In accordance with FTC guidelines, I received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
  • (4/5)
    Ever finish a book and then wonder what just happened? That is this book for sure. Lyrical writing that had me stopping to reread certain passages to just savor them. That story though. It will take me time to wrap my head around what actually happened. This is not the book for people who need a clear story with a clean finish. Don't let that stop you. Appreciate the ride and the slow burn. The journey is what matters!
  • (4/5)
    This book was included in Powell’s Indiespensable #61, and the description was so intriguing that I sat down and started reading it then and there.The book primarily follows Jeremy Heldt, high school grad and video store employee in Nevada, Iowa in the mid 1990s. Life is fairly normal for Jeremy, he lives with his father, the two carrying on quietly after the death of his mother several years ago in a car crash. The peace and quiet is slowly broken apart when a customer comes into the store, saying that her rental “has another movie on it.” When a second customer comes in complaning of te same thing, Jeremy investigates. Playing the movie through, a black and white film, barely a minute long, has been inserted into the middle of the movie. Though there’s nothing concrete in the short film, it is vaguely unsettling. When other films begin appearing in other movies at the store, the creep factor goes up exponentially. Moreover, there are familiar landmarks in the background of these strange, vaguely threatening films . . .I really enjoyed this book. Darnielle has a writing style that manages to be descriptive and stark at the same time. In addition, the book is told from the point of view of a smugly omniscient narrator who seems to delight in keeping bits an pieces back from the reader. We are instead forced to circle around the mystery behind the tapes like a vulture, seeing only the smallest parts at a time. The whole thing reminds me of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. With that book, it was hard to pin down what exactly was so creepy, but it kept you up at night.Fans of psychological suspense will like this book. It’s a finely creepy sophomore work from an up-and-coming author.
  • (4/5)
    This was excellent - not quite the horror I was expecting it to be, but a brilliant meditation on the things we do when we miss someone. And very creepy, even if not outright horror.
  • (4/5)
    If you are of a certain age, you likely remember the video store as a regular stop on the errands run. And if you grew up in a small American town, you may remember the locally owned video store as a peculiar confluence of people and culture in a place where there wasn't a whole lot else to do. I have fond memories of our local video store and the woman who owned it, who always made hilariously bad movie recommendations. I could have worked there one summer as a teen but didn't, and now I wonder if that's the reason I missed out on a writing career.Anyway, this book is not about a video store, although it does begin there. Jeremy is working in a small-town Iowa video store, biding his time while he figures out what to do with his life. A couple of customers returning videotapes remark that extra snippets of film footage have been added to the movies. Jeremy investigates and is thrown off kilter by what he sees. He shows the movies to his boss, who happens to recognize a house glimpsed in a snippet of footage, and she drives there to check it out.You may think you know where this is going. You would be wrong.This little book is exquisitely written, a meditation on many things, including loss, grief, family, small-town life, Midwest culture, and death (perhaps the "universal harvester" of the title, or does that refer to some piece of farm equipment?). It is about all the things in life that we can't really know, and as such, there are a lot of unknowns left for the reader. It is in many ways disturbing, unsettling, off kilter, but it is also meditative and mournful. A short book, it will take very little time to read, but you will be left thinking about it long after you're done.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    Iowa slacker noir. A fascinating story of absence, and unwanted presence. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and was continuously surprised by its turns.
  • (3/5)
    I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, despite hearing some mixed opinions. Universal Harvester by John Darnelle is a mysterious tale, one that evokes a sense of horror in early chapters, but ultimately winds up pittering out with too many characters and an ever shifting point of view.Jamie works in a video rental store that’s still open despite a rise in DVDs and low clientele. When one of his customers says that there’s something wrong with the video tape she rented, he doesn’t think about it too much. More and more people begin to say the same, though, and Jamie decides to look into it. Someone has taped short, disturbing clips of two or three minute segments over VHS tapes. They all seem to be in the same place, somewhere that his boss feels she’s seen before. Soon they find themselves drawn into this great question.The book starts slowly, but is intriguing nonetheless. Jamie’s passivity, his lack of direction, comes really comes through the narrative. Unlike others, he isn’t overly interested in why or how these segments have appeared on these video tapes. They’ve frightened and unsettled him, yes, but doesn’t want to get involved in any sort of bizarre and possibly dangerous ordeal. I liked Jaime, and while I did wish that the story would hurry up and get to the more interesting parts, I was quite invested.Yet, just when the stories pacing became faster everything came to a screeching halt. The main character changed. The setting changed. The time period change. Everything changed. Despite the whiplash, I enjoyed this section, too. The story was beginning to wrap back around to the first set of characters. The same uneasiness that pervaded the first section slowly wormed its way in. I was invested, interested to see where things went and what light was shed on the overarching plot.And then we had a new main character once again. Every time I found myself truly invested with the characters they were replaced with new ones. Every time things got really interesting and more questions were opened, the plot switched tracks. This is supposed to be a mystery, one where many threads weave together to form the whole. The only problem is that none of those threads are followed through to their conclusion.None of the sections ended satisfactorily. This complex, interwoven tale simply felt flat. The prose was nice. The way the characters were brought to life was wonderful. I truly cared about each new character introduced. It was just as much a story of family as it was a suspenseful, unsettling mystery. Yet, each time the focus changed, I was left hanging. I wanted to know more about what happened with Jamie, yet they were largely left out of the narrative after the first section. No real conclusions were ever made, merely inferences. The focus on Jamie’s family and the ongoing tale about him and his father was again largely forgotten. While more inferences could be made as to how that plot ended we are never given anything concrete, or at least nothing satisfactory. This, I felt, happened with each subplot, and the plot overall. The story meandered, and despite it meandering to interesting places, there was simply no satisfactory conclusions to any of the story’s plots or subplots.The one thing which really drew me out of the story was an odd occurrence ever few chapters. Every once in a while the narrator wouldn’t be an omniscient voice. The narration slipped into first person, as if this were a real person talking to you, the reader. This stark change in narration felt extremely misplaced, coming off as odd during moments that were meant to be serious or say some kind of important, universal truth.In the end, Universal Harvester by John Darnelle wasn’t I am interested to see what else this author has to offer. There is real talent here. Very few authors can make me honestly care about so many characters doing such mundane things, and I will wholeheartedly read more of his work. However, I can’t help but feel that this book just fell flat, with the unfortunate habit of cutting itself off with new characters and plot lines.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Mehhhh. I was so excited to read this based on reviews and advance buzz. The hook - disturbing splices of home video turning up on random VHS movies at a small town Iowa video rental store - was like catnip. I anticipated both the storyline and approach would be left of mainstream.It's well-written and the author has an empathy, if not affinity, for those in a small town and the different (slower) pace of life in them. I felt like I was transported to small town Iowa (or midwest). Clocking in at under 300 pages, it's written efficiently, but not sparsely. But. This is a 'high concept' book that just didn't land anywhere for me. Overall, I'm not sure what happened or or if nothing did, what I was supposed to feel or whether the author really knew either. In the end, I came away thinking this was a book that got the benefit of the doubt on 'brilliance and substance' simply because it isn't neatly categorizable and no one wants to admit they didn't get it.
  • (3/5)
    Der 16-jährige Jeremy arbeitet bei Video Hut, einer kleinen Videothek in dem Örtchen Nevada in Iowa. Es sind die späten 1990er, die Menschen leihen noch Videos aus, die Zeit der DVD und Streamingdienste kommt erst noch. Die Arbeit ist weder besonders anspruchsvoll noch zukunftsträchtig, aber besser als nichts. Die Abende verbringt er mit seinem Vater; seit seine Mutter starb, sind die zwei ein Team, das gut funktioniert und in Ruhe miteinander auskommt. Eines Tages kommt die Lehrerin Stephanie recht verstört, um ein Leihvideo zurückzubringen. Es sei noch etwas auf der Kassette, das da offenkundig nicht hingehöre. Jeremy will zunächst nichts von der Sache wissen, aber als dies zum zweiten Mal geschieht, schaut er sich die Tapes doch an. Der normale Film wird von kurzen Sequenzen unterbrochen, Szenen, in denen man eine Scheune erkennt und eine Frau, die womöglich misshandelt wird. Jeremy und Stephanie beginnen zu forschen.Die Kurzbeschreibung von John Darnielles Roman klingt nach einem spannenden Thriller, erinnert ein wenig an das Blair Witch Project und verspricht Hochspannung. Bis zum oben geschilderten Moment ist dies auch der Fall. Langsam baut er Autor die Handlung auf, der gottverlassene Ort fernab der Großstädte, ein Jugendlicher mit etwas Neugier und Wagemut und ein mysteriöses Vorkommnis. Spannend geschrieben, passende Zutaten. Doch dann plötzlich scheint ein völlig anderer Text zu beginnen. Darnielle springt in die Vergangenheit und erzählt die Lebensgeschichte einer Frau, die ausbricht aus dem gutbürgerlichen Leben, das man von ihr erwartet. Sie schließt sich einer Sekte an und tauscht ein ungewisses Schicksal gegen die vorsehbare Kleinstadtfamilie. Man ist irritiert, verwundert und ein wenig verärgert. Dank der Schreibkunst des Autors ist dieser Abschnitt kein Deut schlechter geschrieben, aber wo bitte bleibt die Suche nach den Videosequenzen?Teil drei führt uns wieder zurück zu Jeremy und Stephanie, deren Suche langsam bedrohlicher wird und einer vielversprechenden Spur folgt. Allerdings nur so lange bis Teil 4 beginnt und wir wieder eine ganz andere Geschichte bekommen, die in keinem Zusammenhang zu den vorherigen zu stehen scheint. Es erklärt sich zwar, aber mir sind die Brüche hier zu extrem, um noch von einem runden Roman sprechen zu können. Das Handlungsgerüst ist experimentell, um es positiv zu beschreiben. Mich konnte es nicht wirklich überzeugen, ich bin ein Freund von einem roten Faden, der den Leser durch die Geschichte führt. Und ich bevorzuge zudem relativ eindeutige Genrezuordnungen. Dass mitten im Text sowohl Genre wie auch Handlung völlig ausgetauscht werden, hat mich schlichtweg zu sehr irritiert um es mit Begeisterung aufzunehmen. Auch wenn sich am Ende vieles fügt, dies war einfach ein wenig too much. Das ist schade, vor allem vor dem Hintergrund eines wirklich tollen Anfangs, der weiterverfolgt einen herausragenden Thriller ergeben hätte. Fazit: ein toll geschriebener Roman, der leider durch seinen Aufbau eine Chance vertan hat.
  • (5/5)
    This is weird and wonderful and You Must Read It! It's like a foreign film - all loose ends and unresolved tension. I just finished it this morning and I'm ready to read it again.
  • (1/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    What seems to be a horror novel becomes an eerie story of loneliness and loss, beautifully told. A shame this seems to be disappointing to many readers, who were expecting some kind of Blair Witch Project (the author even drops a reference to this). It's better seen as a mystery, where most but not all is explained at the end.
  • (3/5)
    At times Universal Harvester gave me the same (wonderful!) uncanny feeling that House of Leaves did, but the story felt too short, shallow, and disjointed. Disjointed, as if a hobbyist spliced their films into others'. When looking at it that way, it isn't really a flaw to me. I admire what Darnielle attempted to do, but overall the story was flat and all the red herrings got old.