A novel centered around a small, independent video store in the town of Nevada, Iowa, in the late 1990s whose tapes start coming back with mysterious and sometimes terrifying clips spliced in the middle.
...[a] brilliant second novel ... What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss ... The two threads of the story come together in a truly scary climax, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of it. 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 ... Suspense and ambience count for only so much, though; a horror novel (or any kind of novel) works only with believable characters. And every one in Universal Harvester is realistic, especially Jeremy, who finds himself torn between staying at the video store and leaving it behind for more lucrative work ... So while it’s genuinely unsettling, it’s also a heartfelt reflection on family, as well as a kind of love letter to the often overlooked towns of the American Midwest ... Darnielle’s novel is beyond worthwhile; it’s a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.
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 ... in its own way, a fairy tale — an old, un-Disney-fied one — filtered through the fragrant, dusty Iowan air; a ghost story that's all too real; a detective story with no simple solution ... The novel strikes at the heart of the realities of small-town existence — not just their downsides, which would have been a cheap and easy shot, but their pleasures and comforts and truths. In White Van, Darnielle wound around a single act of violence like water orbiting a drain. But here, the violence is larger, more existential, more terrifying. It is not a single a moment that changes everything, but instead a culmination of choices, tempered by the ordinary details of daily life.
...like a gentle, Midwestern riff on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (maybe with a pinch of Fargo thrown in for good measure). If it were a video, you might find it in the horror aisle, dropped there by a pimply clerk unsure where else to put it ... but ultimately the novel doesn’t belong in the horror aisle. I couldn’t tell you where it ought to be filed, and maybe that’s O.K. 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. Much of what seems, at first, to be merely skillful ornament — descriptions of desolate barns and scouring winds — turns out to be at the very center of the story itself. Grief is a landscape, Darnielle seems to imply, that is so often explored alone, and where shelter is hard to find.