Saturday, September 4, 2010

Harvest Home (novel) - 1973

Yes kids, that's right, we have our first ever HORROR BOOK REVIEW here at TGDH! And it is none other that the extremely hyped up novel Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon.

I won't lie, when I found this at a used book sale (which are my Achilles heel, by the way, this girl finds it impossible to resist the lure of a good used book sale) I was *BEYOND* stoked. I had heard SO much about it, how terrifying it was, what an amazing story, and of course the "I think it's out of print, so good luck finding a copy, and if you do expect to pay hand over fist for it."

So imagine the ludicrous smugness that settled over my person upon finding it at said book sale, and then further only having to pay $1.50 for it. I felt proud, I felt mighty, I felt that I had good and stuck it to the man; and that always makes me far too pleased with myself.

So there I am. 'It's summer', says I, 'This is the ideal time for a good old fashioned 'scare the pants off you' type book'. Much like the tradition in Japan of beating the summer heat by sitting around and telling ghost stories, so you get the chills enough to forget that it is 100 Goddam degrees in the shade. So excited was your beloved Spooky Pie, SO EXCITED.

I finished this book last night, and I am not anywhere near as excited anymore.

Le Sigh.

But before I get into how this 'meant to be awesome' book made me want to start chewing on my desk out of annoyance and frustration, let me give you the general run down of what its about.

Harvest Home is the story of stereotypical, wholesome, American family, the Constantines. Father, Ned, is a miserable bureaucrat, married to dewy eyed June Cleaver-esque Beth, the daughter of a Preacher. Their daughter Kate is a fussy asthmatic, who, as far as I can tell, has never had a friend in her life.

When our tale begins Beth's over bearing Preacher-man dad has just kicked the bucket, and the Constantines are enduring the road trip back to New York from his funeral. During said road trip they take the scenic route and happen upon the quaint hamlet of Cornwall Coombe and decide that THIS IS ABSOLUTELY WHERE THEY MUST LIVE AND THEY WILL ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTIONS SO DON'T EVEN TRY TO TALK THEM OUT OF IT BECAUSE IT WON'T WORK. Lucky for them, there's an empty house, and after a spell they get the provincial locals to cave in and sell it.

Now that they live in the country side Ned no longer needs to make money or something and spends all his time painting, whilst Beth does... I don't know what Beth does. Maybe she lies down on her face for eight hours at a time. But everyone is so in love with the little town and their quaint, old fashioned practices.

Namely the multitude of ceremonies they have to celebrate the various stages in the cycle of the harvest, which ultimately culminates in a giant ceremony known as "Harvest Home", at the center of which are the two villagers who have been deemed the Harvest Lord and the Corn Maiden. You know, basically hillbilly prom court. Ned can't keep his nose out of others peoples business and he stumbles upon the "pagan" belief system that the people of Cornwall Coombe have, and their "terrifying" rituals they perform to insure the growth of the corn.

* outsider comes into community
* outsider mocks natives' belief system
* outsider becomes obsessed with belied system
* outsider is given what for because he is a persistent bastard

I had a multitude of issues with this book. First, and foremost, it is written in first person, and the narration of Ned Constantine is the most self-involved pompous voice ever; which alone made it hard to get through. He is, APPARENTLY, not only a genius but sex on two legs because every woman wants to jump his unemployed bones. Everyone is a caricature - Ned is supposed to come across, I think, as some sort of Byronic hero, although he just seems like a douche bag. Beth is the ideal housewife who spends a lot of time putting a hand to her bosom and making declarations that start with "Oh Darling!". And of course, the village has all of its stereotypical players as well; there's the town slut, the town crazy, and of course, the weird-ass old woman who acts as Judge Judy and executioner for the community.

Then there's the over used tropes throughout the book, an ideal village with a dark secret... wait? That's been done before? When? Oh... 5789489737893478943987 other times? Huh... well, let's do it anyway.

Know what else we'll do? Let's have the whole village be a bunch of "Crazy ass Pagans" who do nothing but butcher people and have sex in Cornfields, because that's totally what they do right? Right?


This sort of crap is why a lot of people still assume that being Pagan equals being a Devil Worshiper. Wow. Just wow.

And this is yet another thing that made me think that if I were a feminist I would be up in arms about the portrayal of women in this book. Every woman is completely one dimensional, and all are thoroughly objectified and made out to be so much under the males. They are all simple minded creatures who have the singular goal of popping out babies and making food.

I might have been offended if the whole book weren't so damn ludicrous that if I got offended about everything in it that was worth getting offended about I probably would have gotten a brain hemorrhage.

Okay, okay, I'm getting a little irritable and long winded, so I'm going to wrap this up you guys.

If you can get past the narration, and the fact that much of the story has been done to death a thousand times, and pretty much always better, its an okay read. The "big reveal" is fairly weak, and Tryon seems to get confused about the mythology he's already set up in the book towards the end, because it basically double back on itself and becomes a giant contradiction.

Basically, I finished the book and went


Take that however you want guys.


  1. You are so lucky! I love a good boot sale too. And a home furnishing store... Great review :D

  2. I recall liking this one, but I read it *many* years ago. Those sound like some serious faults that I'd probably agree with if I read it today. And it doesn't sound like Tryon was being ironic when writing about women, as Ira Levin was in Stepford Wives. In the early '70s a mainstream bestseller of this sort actually *was* unique, although it certainly doesn't look like that now. Once Stephen King came on the scene, these types of old-fashioned horror novels had less impact, I think.