Readers seeking a horror novel will probably be disappointed with John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester. It is true that some of the novel was a “total [page-turning] creep ride, but the book’s true genius is its atmosphere created by the narrative and the characters’ loneliness–that universal loneliness felt by (I guess) all of us. Perhaps Jacob Brogan nails it in his review when he writes, “… the only monster is the deep well of our shared sadness. Layers of loss accumulate throughout: Of the media we enjoy, of the communities we grew up in, and, most of all, of the people we love. ‘It’s in the nature of the landscape to change, and it’s in the nature of people to help the process along.'” Brogan is also accurate when he likens the novel to an X-Files episode. Is Universal Harvester X-files meets Annie Proulx? Eh… Nah… Universal Harvester is its own thing, but I guess “X-files meets Annie Proulx” is how I’d describe it if I had to try to explain it to someone.
It’s a disorienting novel, and I accepted my disorientation by reading some Good Reads reviews (it was reassuring to see that I was not the only one trying to unpack the novel–and there really is a lot to unpack).
“It’s important to consider your choices carefully before settling on a course of action; when you keep changing course, you forget where you are. It’s disorienting.” — J. Darnielle
*possible spoilers ahead*
Universal Harvester is a book I’d like to go back to now that I know there are no jump scares, violent sociopaths, and bloody body count. Like the fields of Iowa and the long, small town country roads, there is a lot of room for exploration.