When we announced Wolf in White Van on this very website two and a half years ago, in official literary terms John Darnielle was essentially an unknown quantity.
Now, things are different. Wolf in White Van fairly emphatically established John as a novelist. Of course, no one really knows if he can do it again. And if that feels less suspenseful than simply not knowing if he could do it at all, then . . . well, maybe you didn’t read Wolf in White Van. For all its many qualities, it’s hardly a book begging for a sequel. The follow-up was always going to demand a bold step forward, and fortunately, the success of Wolf in White Van seems to have imbued John with confidence rather than caution—Universal Harvester is not the product of a cautious mind.
Fans of Wolf in White Van will be glad to hear that John’s new novel, Universal Harvester, is not exactly what one might call “a normal novel.” The book opens at the Video Hut in late-’90s, small-town Iowa, where twentysomething Jeremy rides out his days manning the counter, blissfully unaware of the forces (Hollywood Video, DVDs, the Internet) conspiring to make his job representative of a very specific cultural moment. What Jeremy is aware of is a series of customers returning video tapes with complaints that something’s wrong with them—that, for instance, She’s All That is interrupted by four minutes of grainy, homemade, black-and-white footage that is distinctly creepy-as-hell—there’s a darkness there, an overwhelming sadness. She’s All That is the most popular tape affected, but not the only one. Jeremy would prefer not to have to get to the bottom of the disturbing videos, but that, of course, was never a real possibility . . .
In a variety of essential ways—in terms of craft, scope, and sheer storytelling might—Universal Harvester marks a significant literary leap for John. But in the most literally superficial of ways, how can the book possibly level up from Wolf in White Van? What is a cover designer to do with the above concoction to top the simple genius of Timothy Goodman’s maze of a Wolf in White Van cover? Fortunately, Universal Harvester was in the good hands of Rodrigo Corral and Alex Merto. And here is what they’ve wrought . . . We hope you’re at least a little creeped out.
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle will be published in the United States in February by FSG. It will be published simultaneously in Canada by HarperCollins Canada and in the United Kingdom by Scribe.
John Darnielle is a writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats; he is widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation. He is the author of Wolf in White Van. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and son.
Sean McDonald is John Darnielle’s editor. He is also VP, Executive Editor, and Publisher of MCD/FSG and FSG Originals, as well as Director of Digital and Paperback of Publishing at FSG.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
An Excerpt from John Darnielle’sWolf in White Van
John Darnielle on John Berryman’s“Tampa Stomp”
Whitney Terrell on Time and War
Rowan Ricardo Phillips on the Notions of Innovation and Influence