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2017, 241 pages
John Darniell’s Universal Harvester largely follows Jeremy Heldt, a video store clerk living (resentfully) in the town of Nevada, Iowa, with his widowed father. What begins as a poetically humorous depiction of life as a twenty-something in the Midwest turns slowly into a dark gothic mystery novel when customers of the video store begin to complain about mysterious splices in the cassettes they’ve rented. Jeremy, alongside his boss and college crush, begins sleuthing the who, how and why of the disturbing videocassette alterations. What ensues is a story that spans three generations, abandoned farms, pickup trucks, doomsday cults and families both together and apart.The book is charmingly haunted, displaying much of Darniell’s clever lyricism present in his musical project, The Mountain Goats, a band whose songs Jonathan Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) says “are beautiful, but also so human and complex that they hold me up when I most need something.” The same could be said of Universal Harvester. With Darniell’s contemplations on death, distance, community, longing and loss paired alongside a riveting plot, Universal Harvester is an all-around great read
Laura Judge, Library Technician