Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

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Dark Harvest is a Halloween novel. Well, it’s technically more of an action novel, masquerading as a Halloween novel. I went in expecting horror, and instead got a straightforward, but enjoyable, slice of small-town Americana mixed with the supernatural. It’s also very short, at 197 pages.

The basic story is that five days before every Halloween all of the young males are locked way and starved. When they are released, they are supplied with a weapon and are sent off to hunt the October Boy, a supernatural creature made from vines and a carved pumpkin, armed with a butcher’s knife. The one who catches and kills the Boy get to feast upon his confectionery entrails, satisfying his hunger. The winner is also awarded with the most coveted prize in the town: a one-way ticket out of the community, which is otherwise essentially impossible to escape. The icing on the cake is that when the winner leaves, his family is also rewarded, and the community is assured a bountiful harvest.

The story reads kind of like an inverted Children of the Corn. Without going into too much detail, I can safely say that it is very clear in the earlier chapters of the books that the October Boy is clearly not the villain. In fact, he is the most sympathetic of any of the characters, and is unsurprisingly the most fully developed. The twist is clear from the beginning, the characters are fairly simplistic, and the antagonists are stock, without any development of motivations outside of being one-dimensionally evil. However, the novel is fast paced, the narrator is interesting, and Partridge’s writing is sparse, trimmed down to the hard-boned essentials, which is a welcome change from overly ornate prose. For example:

A fireball blooms in his old bedroom as he peels out. The black window explodes. Shards of broken glass stab the dead lawn. Flames sweep down the narrow hallway, spilling into the dining room, climbing the legs of the dinner table his father built, blistering wallpaper that bursts aflame.

The writing seems like it would lend itself very well to screenplay adaptation, since most of the sentences tend to be straightforward, declaratory descriptive sentences. I could see this getting picked up and produced without much difficulty or alteration to the novel itself.

However, Partridge does also have a turn for the low-poetic, as his descriptions can be downright beautiful at times, and since the plot and character development is actually pretty weak, the writing style is the novel’s saving grace. The narrative voice stands out more than any of the characters, barring the October Boy himself:

Like a wild stitch of midnight we weave through a crowd of teens prowling Main Street, and they look straight at us but don’t see more than a ripple of shadow and the swirling twist of a dust devil it leaves behind.

Autumn leaves and candy wrappers and wax-paper Bazooka Joe comics churn in the night. And now the town is behind us, and we’re racing down the licorice-whip road. By the tome that dust devil stops swirling on Main Street, we’re a mile away.

Rows of dead cornstalks on each side of the road blur by like a crop of bones. There’s something up ahead in the middle of the road, something that’s pulling away even as we gear up the night’s own tach and close on it.

That’s nice.

While there aren’t really any surprises here, the novel doesn’t fail to entertain for the short while that it lasts.

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