cover image Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester

John Darnielle. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-28210-3

Beginning on the cusp of the 2000s and spanning more than 25 years, the second novel from Darnielle (Wolf in White Van) is a slow-burn mystery/thriller whose characters are drawn together by an eerie discovery. In his early 20s, Jeremy Heldt lives with his father, Steve—Jeremy’s mother was killed in a car accident six years before—and bides his time clerking at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa, waiting for better prospects to arise. It’s a steady job that keeps him out of the house, though things turn weird when customers begin to report dark, disjointed, unnerving movies-within-the-movies on their rented VHS tapes. At first reluctant to become involved in tracking down the origin of the clips, Jeremy, at the urging of his acquaintance Stephanie Parsons, uncovers the tragic decades-long story behind the videos and experiences an unsavory side of Iowa that he never imagined could exist. Powerfully evoking the boredom and salt-of-the-earth determination of Jeremy, his friends, and a haunted survivor determined to redress a great loss, 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.” Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (Feb.)