Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester tells the story of a video store clerk in Iowa who finds strange and disturbing clips recorded over the store’s VHS tapes.
My Review:

Okay, look: the premise of this book—and the cover, no lie—really set my expectations up in the clouds. It’s set in the 90s in the Midwest, the protagonist works at a video rental store, and eery homemade movies start appearing spliced on various tapes. I’m sold. 

All of that is set up really quickly, and as the book moves along, you sort of realize the slow, spaced out setting of Nebraska really mimics the layout of the narrative. As the mystery languidly unfolds, I found my interest sustained but subdued. The book isn’t necessarily a thriller, in the traditional sense. It is beautifully written, giving you time with several characters, all of which reveal minute aspects of the broader picture. 

Definitely worth the read, as long as you understand this isn’t a fast-paced mystery with a solid ending. Not to say the ending isn’t satisfying—it feels more human and more intentional than a neatly contrived, “traditional” thriller ending.


3 stars out of 5

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