Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s the 1990s, pre-DVD, and the work is predictable and familiar; he likes his boss, and it gets him out of the house.
But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets, she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says. Two days later, another customer brings back She’s All That and complains that something is wrong: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.’
Curious, Jeremy takes a look. And what he sees on the videos is so strange and disturbing that it propels him out of his comfortable routine and into a search for the tapes’ creator. As the once-peaceful fields and barns of the Iowa landscape begin to seem sinister and threatening, Jeremy must come to terms with a truth that is as devastatingly sad as it is shocking.
‘Darnielle’s second novel opens like a dark suspense story; his descriptions of the VHS scenes are written in a deadpan style to evoke maximum dread. But he ultimately pursues a softer and more nuanced exploration of family and loss.’
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‘A captivating exploration of the vagaries of memory and inertia in middle America … [Universal Harvester] serves as a stellar encore after the success of [Darnielle's] debut novel, Wolf in White Van… Beneath the eerie gauze of this book, I felt an undercurrent of humanity and hope.’
The Washington Post
‘[S]o 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.’
‘A major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.
Los Angeles Times
‘An eerie but lovingly detailed delineation of a landscape that, like all landscapes, is part external reality and part memory … Darnielle understands that there are things writing can approach but must pass over in silence. He risks those silences; listen.’
Colin Barrett, The Guardian
‘[Darnielle’s] writing is wonderful and his storytelling is unique and compelling.’
‘[Universal Harvester] starts like a spooky thriller, then opens out into a moving, beautifully etched picture of America’s lost and profoundly lonely.’
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian
‘[A] strange and unsettling story … Think Don DeLillo and David Lynch teaming up to write a book inspired by the Japanese horror movie Ringu.’
Darragh McManus, Irish Independent
‘[A] taut thriller that captures the zeitgeist of the 90s.’
‘A bewitching and eerily still piece of fiction. Darnielle has a gift for domestic detail and a nimble way of capturing large feelings without dwelling on them.’
Ben Jeffrey, TLS