Universal Harvester


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I have not watched Stranger Things. The husband watched it and I caught glimpses of it as I moved from room to room doing other stuff. It seemed very normal ’80s type stuff with creepy undertones. What made it seem creepy was that things were juuuuuuuust not quite right.  It’s like how you look at a picture on the wall and you know, you KNOW it’s crooked but it’s SO CLOSE that you try to ignore it because you don’t want to get up, you’re comfy dammit.

This book is like that. I really enjoyed being taken back to the days of ’90s video rental places (RIP Blockbuster). Someone has been recording snippets of very dark home movies on certain tapes and returning them, and other customers are starting to find them and complain. Honestly I’m surprised the characters don’t start sculpting things with mashed potatoes. Our main character is Jeremy, who lost his mom to a terrible car accident when he was a teenager. He lives with his dad and works at the video store. The store owner Sarah Jane gets wrapped up in our endeavor too, and Jeremy’s crush Stephanie joins his team when something doesn’t seem right and requires investigation.

Parallel to the present day story is the story of the Sample family, Dad, Mom, and daughter Lisa, who is our present day creepy lady in an old farmhouse with a dark secret and a very photogenic barn.  Set in the ’70s Mom Sample runs off with a strange, gross, strip mall church congregation and the effects on Lisa may have been…not positive?

Of course we also have a family that discovers the rusting remains of all these events after they decide to buy the very same farmhouse to retire in. They decide to investigate and find that all of our past characters still live nearby.

Over all of it we get the occasional 4th wall thrown in our face because there is a narrator that we forget about until they burst back in, pulling us up into the sky above the action, implying that other timelines went a different way but this one we are observing is the most important or interesting or devastating one.

I expected this to be a kind of alien story. It wasn’t.

I thought it might turn into “The Ring.” It didn’t.

Maybe a horror story where there are crazy murders in remote farmhouse basements? Nope.

Some reviews say it’s a story that drags out the missing mother trope. Well, okay but you have to dig kind of deeply for that. It reads like a thriller, but there are no sociopaths or serial killers to be found. I finished the book today and if I have any feelings about it they center around the idea that it is very difficult to completely escape a small town, and that even when you do part of it stays with you wherever you go, like a key in a junk drawer that no longer has a matching lock.

This is an enjoyable read until you realize that it’s not going anywhere you expect it to, indeed it seems to go nowhere at all. Perhaps something about my experience kept the emotional connection out of my reach. I would encourage you to seek out other reviews on the web about this book. They are mixed, and for good reason. This book is mixed up and perhaps never truly decided what it wanted to be before publication. It’s a shame too, because there are many satisfying ways it could have gone – and it’s the hope that one of those paths would come to fruition that kept me reading.


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  1. It kind of sounds like something I’d like to read, but does it have an ending? I’m sick of reading books with a good premise but no definitive ending. I’d enjoy reading something with a ’90s vibe but I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not good. By the way, I really enjoy all your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dana! It’s really awesome that you read them and I appreciate that you take the time. 🙂 The ending was very odd…to me it just seemed to feel unresolved, which I guess was consistent with the underlying theme of missing people – sometimes they don’t get found and we have to deal with unresolved issues. I would say it’s worth a go, but don’t rush to it.


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