This book caught my eye not because of the wicked kewl cover that looks like something from a roleplaying supplement from White Wolf circa 1995, but it was one of the few genre books that made the Publishers Weekly book of the year list. Now that I’ve read it, I completely agree with them.
This sucker reads like a combination of Shirley Jackson and an early Stephen King short story (without the cocaine.) The novel takes place in a nameless Midwestern town on Halloween Night in 1963. The teenagers of the town are locked up for five days with no nourishment except for water. They are released at sundown on Halloween, armed with baseball bats and borrowed axes, to hunt the October Boy, a mythical scarecrow-like being with the head of a glowing pumpkin and its insides stuffed with candy that rises from the corn fields from outside of town. The Boy has to make it though the gauntlet to reach the church at the center of town by the stroke of midnight. This has happened every year since anyone can remember. The winner gets the candy, respect from the community, and gets to leave the dead-end town to go on to a better life.
This year, of course, things turn out differently.
Dark Harvest is marketed as a horror novel, but there’s surprisingly little horror to be found here – there’s a bit of violence, certainly, but it’s not graphic or extreme in nature. It’s more horror in mood and feel, a dying town surrounded by dry cornstalks with Something Strange lurking in them. This is an amazingly fresh story, told in a bold voice, nibbling at the edge of American Myth itself. I knew these characters even as the story introduced them: the bad seed with the muscle car, the outsider from the poor family who longs for a better life, the strange new girl from another town who carries a secret, the police officer who rules by fear and intimidation.
Seek this one out. It’s a slim volume that reads at a breackneck pace and leaves you as satisfied as if you just ate Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll be worth it.