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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

©2017 John Darnielle (P)2017 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.0 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
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  • Story

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • laurie
  • ROSELLE, IL, United States
  • 02-10-17

Underwhelming

This story is not a thriller. It's a stylized observation of midwestern life in the 90s. Though well written, the story lacks substance....you spend most of your time waiting for a payoff, but are left with few answers.
I was extremely disappointed with the story and felt that this books only redeeming qualities were the descriptive writing and the performance by the reader.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Toadguy
  • Laie, HI United States
  • 04-10-17

Genius.

I love John Darnielle's music and also Wolf in White Van, but this his masterpiece.
The blend of unsettling suspense and powerful humanity make this story unique and unforgettable, and John's narrative is intimate and quietly expressive.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A beautiful look at grief

If you could sum up Universal Harvester in three words, what would they be?

Melancholy on VHS

What did you like best about this story?

Very beautiful, ambitious concept within a reasonable, grounded world. Has a Twin Peaks strangeness about it, but sums up very clearly by the end.

What does John Darnielle bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Darnielle has a soft, expressive voice which definitely adds to the melancholic vibe.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Introspective and sad at some points; definitely an emotional ride.

Any additional comments?

One of my favorite books I've read (listened to) in a very long time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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WOW

Impulse bought the book a few weeks ago because I saw it was written by the lead singer of The Mountain Goats. By chapter 2, I was hooked. Such a great read. 10/10

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A wonderful novel

Raw and powerful emotions mixed with small town nostalgia and the unknowable sense of loss. A beautifully written novel.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Gran libro de un excelente autor

Una historia lenta, pero interesante.

Los personajes son muy buenos, pero no esperen una conclusión dramática ni mucha acción.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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the epitome of anticlimax

this book had so many great things going on. author's reading of it was very engaging, aesthetic was dark and creepy and explored a lot of the darker, bleaker ins and outs of rural/small town US. but then it ends and basically nothing has occurred of any real consequence. I wanted something more, to see the face of the darkness, but it just was not there. wasted opportunity by a decent author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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not for me

I guess this book was just not for me, slow, strange, monotone reader, was ready for it to end

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • tom
  • 08-23-17

it's unsettling

disturbing and captivating. but I'm not sure how many people will be satisfied with it.

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  • Ms. Susan E. Plant
  • 04-10-17

I loved this story and have listened to it 3 times

Intelligent ,interesting and compelling .I don't read much fiction but I loved the depth and heart of this story.