Dark Harvest Is Not Very Easy To Read
Dark Harvest is a novella from 2006 I oopsed into reading because I wanted something short and spooky for October—and then only finished it a few days ago. And now, having discovered that it’s getting a film adaptation that appears to be trapped in some bureaucratic/logistical hell and will come out eventually, it seemed a perfect book to give a review.
However, the book is odd, with a strange pace, strange story, and a few quirks I can describe, but honestly, it won’t get across what it’s like to read. It’s also a book from 2006, and you can tell. The language choices and a few trope choices are outdated and problematic, and while the book seems ultimately socially conscious in its messaging, I leave it to you if you’re comfortable reading it. I also leave it to you if you can jibe with its linguistic style. This is perhaps the strongest authorial voice I’ve ever come across. The book has lines directly addressing the reader as if they were in an in-universe character, but this only happens occasionally: not often enough to remember that’s what’s happening. There is a point to it, but it’s jarring until it makes sense. And then there’s the moment-to-moment prose. To describe it is to describe a whirlwind as words. Dark Harvest is almost impressionistic in style. Off-beat similes and descriptions are interspersed with a wide net of cultural references that all mix together and blitz along the page in a staccato rhythm. Occasionally hard-to-parse sentences will slap the reader and force them to examine the meaning with little assistance. It’s a style that relies on emotional understanding more than literal moment-to-moment plotting. The saving grace is that the story itself is easy to understand—because the core rules and motivations are reiterated obnoxiously, which I charitably interpret as a grounding mechanism. Despite that, Dark Harvest likely benefits from multiple readings, as you can either coast on top of its flow and see the major story or dig deep and try to parse its myriad messages. And it’s certainly a book with a lot it wants to tell you. But whatever you choose, both paths through Dark Harvest still leave a sickening feeling of horror.
This Little Book’s Twisty Plot Gets Under Your Skin
Because finally, we wrap around to the plot of this book. And the classic question I always ask: is this book scary? And the answer is a resounding “yes,” with a large-but-not-damning asterisk. Dark Harvest has brutal gore and shocking violence, but the themes hit like a truck. I shan’t spoil too much, but the basic premise is this: in a small town, for five days, every boy between a certain age range is locked in their room with no food. Then, on Halloween, a pumpkin-head scarecrow monster named the October Boy comes to life, has his insides stuffed full of candy like a macabre piñata, and becomes part of a game. The October Boy has until midnight to get into a church, and every starved boy in town has until midnight to murder him with any weapon and by any means necessary.
The book doesn’t go the way you think it will from there. Instead, it’s an exploration of violence: political, social, and more. Twists and turns that aren’t so much shocking as increasingly nihilistic and cruel build this feeling of senseless violence, hopelessness, and worming distress. It’s not scary because of a paranormal monster, but because of the parallels it draws and the real human monstrosities committed. I don’t know what specifically—if there even was a specific target—the author wanted to comment on, but it’s clear that Dark Harvest wants you to think about its concepts. And it wants to make those themes and messages churn in your gut. In that regard, it succeeds enormously well. If you like how Squid Game makes you feel ill at the injustice of its plot, Dark Harvest plays similar emotional chords.
Thus, the following criticism doesn’t hold as much weight as it might elsewhere—but is still an obvious failure of the text. Books like Horrid and Wilder Girls live or die by their characters, but Dark Harvest barely has characters. They are tropes on a stage that connect the themes and messages to names. Our main boy character has an extremely trope-filled backstory, and our main girl character is so loosely defined as a person she barely exists—and those aren’t even the most throwaway characters in the plot. In Dark Harvest, most boys are part of a violent crowd, and most girls are victims or damsels. The places you’re meant to deeply connect to a character are with ones you’d least expect, and it’s often because their stories are deeply sad. This book clearly can muster a lot of emotional introspection; I don’t know why it didn’t do so with more characters.
Dark Harvest Wastes Its Characters For Its Themes
Don’t misunderstand me, though. There’s a lot wrong, but there’s also so much artistry here—so much craft on a sentence level. Deliberate thought went into the structure, the reveals, and the mood, and it screams endorsement of the writer’s skill. Dark Harvest may not be a book you read if you’re seeking a good mood, but that’s intentional, and it’s somehow still entertaining/engaging as it goes for its higher intents. What I thought from that cover was a pulpy splatter spree drenched in Halloween iconography, but that cover is a shrewd landmine laid for expectations. This book tricked me, and it’s a treat it was worth the read. Dark Harvest will make you angry at the world’s unfairness. It lacks the nuance of a modern-day social horror like What We Harvest but understands the power horror has to inspire a second look at oppressive systems. While I wish aspects of this book were different, I understand how it won a Bram Stoker. I get why someone would want to make it into a movie. Dark Harvest is a short book, easily read in a few sittings, but will stick with you for much longer.
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