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Dark Harvest / Norman Partridge

thDH3.jpgTor / September 2007
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

In Dark Harvest, author Norman Partridge crafts an inspired throwback to the classic campfire tale and explores the idea that the real bogeymen are not those lurking in the shadowed corners of our childhood bedrooms but rather those all around us in plain sight. It’s an atmospheric coming-of-age tale and urban legend hybrid equally fitting for late Halloween night reading or storytime at summer camp.

In an unnamed midwestern town that no one ever seems to leave, Halloween signals an annual rite of passage for the town’s male teens, during which they hunt down the legendary Sawtooth Jack (aka The October Boy), a malevolent Jack o’Lantern-topped, candy-stuffed scarecrow that rises up each Halloween in the cornfields surrounding the town. There is much at stake in this mysterious vigilante-style showdown dubbed the Run: the one who slays Sawtooth Jack gets his one-way ticket out of this dead-end 1960’s suburbia and his family wins the equivalent of the lottery – a new house, a shiny new car, and no bills for an entire year. This year, 16-year-old Pete McCormick is determined to win the Run; he sees victory as his ticket out of town away from the broken promises of his unemployed, alcoholic father and the suffocating nothingness of small town life. But, like all good small midwestern towns, there are secrets out there amongst the corn stalks, and Pete and a female companion will soon learn that sometimes the stuff behind the legends (in this case a shadowy sect of town founders known as the Harvester’s Guild) is far more dangerous that the legends themselves.

Dark Harvest is The Outsiders meets The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And, like a movie adaptation of an S.E. Hinton novel, one half expects to see a young Matt Dillon or Ralph Macchio step off the page at any moment, hair greased back and ready to rumble with Partridge’s pumpkin-headed monstrosity. His prose drips with rich Halloween imagery that heightens the novella’s mood and atmosphere at every turn, and he never loses sight that at the heart of Dark Harvest is the idea of the timelessness of urban legend. Dark Harvest is Partridge’s campfire around which readers gather to hear his well-crafted apocryphal cautionary tale:

Yeah. You remember how it feels to go nose to nose with a legend. That’s why the stories they spin about the October Boy are all about the fear. You heard them around a campfire out in the woods when you were just a kid, and they were whispered to you late at night in your dark bedroom when your best friend spent the night, and they scared you so bad tenting out in your backyard one summer night that you thought you wouldn’t sleep for a week. So there’s not much chance of separating reputation from reality when you look the real deal straight in the face. He’s the October Boy…the reaper that grows in the field, the merciless trick with a heart made of treats, the butchering nightmare with the hacksaw face…and he’s gonna getcha! That’s what they always told you…he’s gonna getcha so you know you’ve been got!!!

Partridge’s voice is thoroughly fresh, with delightfully original turns of phrase that often sneak up and overtake the reader in blissful moments of literary spontaneity:

His mom died of cancer last winter, and his dad drank away his job at the grain elevator the following spring. There’s enough rotten luck in that little sentence to bust anyone’s chops.


It’s like the old man has a fish on the line, and he’s trying to reel it in with words.

Readers might initially find themselves thrown off balance by the disconcerting present tense narrative, but Partridge skillfully turns what could have been an exercise in literary vertigo around by using this here-and-now storytelling technique to make the reader part of the story, in turn building and sustaining a propulsive momentum throughout.

Dark Harvest could very well become to Halloween what Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is to its titular holiday, its classic sensibilities and resonance as strong as they are here. Clever without being pretentious, contemporary with an air of old-fashioned storytelling, Dark Harvest is destined to become a modern Halloween literary landmark.

Purchase Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest.

Posted on Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 10:06AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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