Universal Harvester

  • by John Darnielle
  • Narrated by John Darnielle
  • 5 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.
So begins John Darnielle's haunting and masterfully unsettling Universal Harvester: the once placid Iowa fields and farmhouses now sinister and imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. The audiobook will take Jeremy and those around him deeper into this landscape than they have ever expected to go. They will become part of a story that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain.
Engineered by Matt Douglas
Music by Buttonwood Agreement
John Darnielle - piano, guitar
Joaquin Spengemann - drums and percussion
Additional synth by John Vanderslice
Music produced by John Vanderslice at Tiny Telephone, San Francisco
Additional mixing and postproduction by Tim Franklin


What the Critics Say

"Darnielle's understated narration is a perfect match for the quiet story. His restrained delivery highlights the steady Midwestern attitude of his characters, making the story's pensive strangeness that much more unsettling." (AudioFile)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

poignant story about grief

This is a haunting story about the personal nature of grief. It shows the uncomfortable feeling people get when they get too close to a traumatic event. the story assembles several different stories of loss and coping, and the result makes the reader or listener feel uncomfortable. The story pushes our comfort zone a little.

at first I felt the story was fast and gripping but then it slowed down, took unexpected turns. I liked the detours themselves, but wondered how it would connect to the larger thread. It pulled through. Better still, between the larger theme and offhand comments, I found myself thinking I thought the same thing as the narrator. Simply, I had a feeling about an aspect of life and the narrator said the same thing. that's how this book impressed me.

I'll definitely read the lyrics of the mountain goats more (the lyricist is the author). I might even read his first book. i can't recommend Universal Harvester enough.
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- Amazon Customer

A story of loss beneath an eerie mystery

As a long time fan of Darnielle I couldn't wait to pick up this book. I purchased the audio version and just as I expected the performance was exceptional. His voice is perfect for the strange, intriguing, and sad plot of the book, and really draws you into the characters. This book, while I wouldn't categorize as horror, is definatly creepy at times. It keeps your mind on the edge of letting it wonder to what could actually going on, allowing you to dream up the worse and most gruesome scenario while not actually taking you to that place of "horror". Loss is a huge part of this story. I've never lost someone close to me, I've known people who have died but the book really showed me a perspective of loosing a loved one that I never thought about. It made me rethink a lot of stuff in my life, for the better I think. The pacing of the book is a little strange after part 1. During particular parts the scenes change very quickly with little indication other than saying the name of a characters. It often caught me off guard and I had to rewind a bit just to make sure I wasn't getting things confused. At the same time the way the story changes quickly and unexpectedly to reveal different details about what's going on was like finding puzzle pieces all over the ground, and as the story goes on you see more and more pieces that fit together until you have the full picture at the end. The finished picture is sobering.
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- shelby

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-07-2017
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio