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Subject: Isaac's Reads: Thomas Tryon's "Harvest Home" rss

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Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon

So, after finishing The Other a few weeks ago, I figured I needed to move on to the OTHER (heh, heh...) Thomas Tryon novel that I remembered so fondly from back in high school* -- Harvest Home. This was actually the first Tryon novel I read, and it made a huge impact on me at the time. Now, I can see a lot of motifs that are familiar and tired in horror fiction, but considering that this book was published in 1973, I think that Tryon may have been one of the first to do this sort of thing.

Tryon takes an urban family of three and moves them to a country house, in a tiny, secluded village where the primary economy is in the corn. The people who live in the town are focused on the corn, and those who cannot work the fields are put to use for other means -- working the post office, working as a constable, working as the Jack-of-all-trades, etc. The Widow Fortune is the matriarch of the small town, and she keeps her hand involved in everything, from healing (she's a bit of a witch doctor) to bringing new people into the small community. But underlying all of this idyllic setting is an atmosphere of menace, and much of the novel is spent with Ned trying to figure out what it is.

Greg Hinkle recently finished this book based off of a recommendation of mine, and he said that the book reads more like a mystery than a novel, because Ned is in search of the town's secret. In a way, I agree, but in another way, I still see this as a horror novel. Part of it has to do with the atmosphere of the book; in a good horror story, the setting is almost as much of a character as the protagonist and antagonist, and Tryon pulls this off very well. There's very much a theme of "These ordinary things are not so ordinary after all" in this book, and Tryon is skillful at making some everyday item into a central part of the horror of his story. I think that a lot of this hinges on the menace he gives to this small, back-to-nature community, without making it into some over-the-top, graphic horror cliche.

Harvest Home stands up well, even after 33 years. I didn't find anything less frightening about this novel, even knowing what was coming, and I think that I would recommend this novel over The Other, because I find the story more accessible (the language isn't as purple, and there are fewer long passages of description and narrative). Both are excellent novels, if you enjoy a good horror tale, but Harvest Home relies less on the "Gotcha!" ending than The Other, and I think that it stands up well to repeat readings.


*High school is now 16 years ago for me. It's incredible. I don't feel like I've aged much since then, but when I look at pictures of myself from that time ... BOY did I look different!
 
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Greg Hinkle
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For me, it was the pace of the book that kept it from feeling like a horror novel. I see your points and largely agree. The story flows along at a regular clip, weaving in and out of characters and story elements so you don't quite know what to expect, or what's coming, or what the book is really about. My wife read it also, finishing it before I did, and we'd say things like "page 220 and still don't know what this story is about".

This is not a bad thing: it's an enjoyable journey. The main character, Ned Constantine (named in such a way as to be symbolic of something that my brain is too occupied to discern or research at the moment), is likably human if not completely involving. I really appreciated the dynamic between him and his wife at the beginning.

When you've finished the book, you can mentally review the early occurances in the novel and see how it all fits. That's a telling trait of a solidly constructed novel.

While there are events that are solidly in the horror genre, they seemed inevitable to me, ingrained into the story. None of the in-your-face type of horror or surprise (which is not to say you'll have it figured out before it happens, but you might).

But yes, it does stand up well, and get's a thumbs up from me. (As does The Other, which I still need to re-read.)
 
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