The Mountain Goats lead singer John Darnielle is back with another nostalgic horror novel. Universal Harvester, the unrelated follow-up to Wolf in White Van, pitches readers into a VHS rental store in Iowa, where someone is taping cryptic and appalling scenes over the cassettes.
Like its predecessor, Darnielle’s second novel doesn’t try to be flashy or sensational. Universal Harvester isn’t The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl, where stories spin out in the midst of media frenzy. Instead of bringing the over-recordings to wider media attention, two of Nevada, Iowa’s — that’s nehVAYduh — Video Hut employees attempt to solve the mystery themselves, accompanied by the store patron who noticed the anomalies in the first place.
Characters live complicated lives outside the boundaries of Darnielle’s novel, and Universal Harvester journeys to dark places in order to show as much of them as is pertinent. But as the reader progresses, what the author chooses not to exhibit becomes the object of scrutiny, in much the same way that Darnielle’s heroes study the vandalized tapes in their care.
Universal Harvester isn’t a perfect novel. Readers will be left with questions in the end, and the narrative progresses at an erratic pace in a few key moments, which may necessitate re-reading in order to tease out important detail. With that being said, Darnielle’s second novel is an excellent choice for anyone looking for the horror novel next door.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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Image credit: Ludo