Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

A Novel

John Darnielle

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Universal Harvester READ AN EXCERPT →



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 novel 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.



People usually didn’t say anything when they returned their tapes to the Video Hut: in a single and somewhat graceful movement, they’d approach the counter, slide the tapes toward whoever was stationed behind the register,...



Universal Harvester Book Trailer

John Darnielle reads from his new novel, Universal Harvester, directed by Andrew Bruntel (dir. of This Year). Universal Harvester is the follow-up to Darnielle's bestselling and National Book Award nominated Wolf in White Van.


Praise for Universal Harvester

“[Universal Harvester comes across] like a gentle, Midwestern riff on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (maybe with a pinch of Fargo thrown in for good measure) . . . Darnielle spins an uneasy scenario that grows in menace as the pages stack up . . . [But] Darnielle’s aims are finally sweeter, quieter and more sensitive than one would expect from a more traditional tale of dread. He writes with the simple clarity of a young adult novelist, effortlessly sketching modest lives in the green, empty expanses of the heartland . . . Grief is a landscape, Darnielle seems to imply, that is so often explored alone.” —Joe Hill, The New York Times Book Review

Universal Harvester is a novel about noticing hidden things, particularly the hurt and desperation that people bear under their exterior of polite reserve . . . [Darnielle is] discerning and skillful at navigating the inner lives of the easily ignored: recluses, outcasts, even cordial middle American retail clerks . . . [An] absorbing book . . . Mr. Darnielle possesses the clairvoyant’s gift for looking beneath the surface.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“[Universal Harvester is] constantly unnerving, wrapped in a depressed dread that haunts every passage. But it all pays off with surprising emotionality.” —Kevin Nguyen,

“Darnielle’s prose is lucid and precise, the sort of clear-eyed, knife-jab sentences that defined both his debut Wolf in White Van and his whole songwriting career. He moves through the plot with an enviable looseness.” —Carmen Maria Machado,

“[Universal Harvester is] the most unsettling book I’ve read since House of Leaves, but it’s also a gorgeous, minimalist exploration of loss, family, and epistemology.” —Adam Morgan, Electric Literature

“Darnielle imbues a familiar story about a town with a dark secret with depth and resonance . . . [Universal Harvester] sets the bar high for any dark fiction that comes after it.” —Sam Reader, The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

“Darnielle writes beautifully . . . He builds a deep sense of foreboding by giving pieces of the puzzle in such a way that you really can’t see the solution until that final piece is in place.” —Salem Macknee, News & Observer

“[Darnielle] applies his lyrical sensibilities to each and every sentence in his novel, producing some truly striking passages. He walks a fine line between plot and style, never fully sacrificing one over the other, blending them instead into something that is satisfying on both artistic and visceral levels. It is, simply said, a beautifully written book.”—Blu Gilliand, Cemetery Dance

“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.” —Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post

"Universal Harvester is a quiet story of grief with the trappings of a Stephen King suspense-thriller . . . Its characters are constantly on the move, speeding toward destinations they fear will hold ‘scenes of unspeakable devastation and loss,’ and Darnielle seamlessly transfers their dread straight into readers’ hearts . . . [Universal Harvester is] so 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.” —Abram Scharf, MTV News

"[A] brilliant second novel . . . What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss . . . Darnielle is a master at building suspense, and his writing is propulsive and urgent; it's nearly impossible to stop reading. He's also incredibly gifted at depicting the dark side of the rural Midwest . . . [Universal Harvester is] beyond worthwhile; it's a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction." —Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times

"Eerie . . . unnerving . . . Darnielle adeptly juggles multiple stories that collide with chaotic consequences somewhere in the middle of nowhere. With a nod to urban legends and friend-of-a-friend tales, the author prepares readers for the surreal truth, the improbable events that 'have form, and shape, and weight, and meaning" —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Darnielle’s masterfully disturbing follow-up to the National Book Award-nominated Wolf in White Van reads like several Twilight Zone scripts cut together by a poet . . . All the while, [Darnielle’s] grasp of the Iowan composure-above-all mindset instills the book with agonizing heartbreak.” —Daniel Kraus, Booklist (starred review)

“Darnielle’s second novel opens like a dark suspense story . . . but he ultimately pursues a softer and more nuanced exploration of family and loss . . . Darnielle’s prose is consistently graceful and empathetic . . . [Universal Harvester is] a smart and rangy yarn.” —Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

John Darnielle

John Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was a New York Times bestseller, National Book Award nominee, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and widely hailed as one of the best novels of the year. He is the writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and sons.

John Darnielle

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From the Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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