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Look Out For … Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Look Out For … Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

“There’s just something about a VHS tape that’s creepy in a way that a DVD will never be.

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.

Why We’re Excited About This Book:

The isolated, rural setting of Universal Harvester coupled with its nostalgic feel and the nod to the Ring premise (there’s just something about a VHS tape that’s creepy in a way that a DVD will never be) gives it a certain mystique even before we pick up the book.

With multiple storylines that weave around themselves and allusions towards urban legends and ‘friend of friend’ tales, Universal Harvester looks set to be a chilling, emotional rollercoaster ride to the middle of nowhere.

Universal Harvester is out on 4 March 2017 and is available from Amazon.

RICHARD COSGROVE

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