Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge
Here we are for another foray into the dark side. Now, this book is completely new to me and I wanted to investigate it after I had heard that there is a film due to be released, and directed by David Slade. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, i.e the pandemic it was postponed. It was due to be released this September, but again has been postponed.
The book itself is quite a short book and didn't take a long time to read. Publisher's Weekly put it into the top 100 books of 2006.
ABOUT THE BOOK
It is Halloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol' Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death. Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end future in this one-horse town. He's willing to risk everything, including his life, to be a winner for once. But before the night is over, Pete will look into the saw-toothed face of horror - and discover the terrifying true secret of the October Boy...
Dark Harvest tells the story of The October Boy, Ol’ Hacksaw face, or Sawtooth Jack (he is known by all names). A creature that rises from the dead cornfields every October. He has to reach the church in the town before the stroke of midnight.
It also tells the story of the teenage boys that have to hunt The October Boy, Ol’ Hacksaw Face or Sawtooth Jack. They have to stop him getting to the Church by the stroke of midnight and eat his candy heart.
This is a short novella by Norman Partridge set in 1963, and from the quick synopsis that you just read I think that you get the general picture.
The story revolves around a young boy Pete McCormick, a teenage boy who after the death of his mother has lost his way. His father is a drunk, lost his job, and has virtually relinquished all parental duties, virtually leaving Pete to bring up his sister and himself. However, he has fallen foul of the sadistic police chief, Jerry Ricks on two occasions, which leads to him getting a nightstick in the kidneys.
Pete knows that the only way to leave the town that he lives in, is to win the hunt for The October Boy, Ol’ Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack and get his meal ticket out of the town, as the winner and his family get set up for a year until the next hunt.
This is an interesting book, that kind of mixes Shirley Jackson with a Slasher urban legend…..thing, and a bit of The Purge, where there are no rules (except kill The October Boy)
The story reminds me a lot of The Lottery in many ways. We have a town in the MidWest that has a ritualistic tradition in which the teenage boys from the town are starved for five days and then made to take to the streets to hunt The October Boy. Much like The Lottery, we get absolutely no reason as to why this tradition is carried out on a yearly basis and we do not know its purpose, it just is.
In addition to this, we get no explanation of what happens when the tradition is carried out, or what happens if The October Boy wins. We get some foreboding that it is going to be bad, but we aren’t ever told why the tradition arose in the first place or its history.
The book itself is a mish mash of narratives and will suddenly move from third person to second person narrative with no reason or indication that it is going to happen. This can be a little confusing at times and I can't imagine many people will get along with this sudden change in narrative. In addition to this, the monster of the piece will interchangeably be called The October Boy, Ol’ Hacksaw Face or Sawtooth Jack, and again, there is no reason for this, it just is.
However, I have to admit, I did like it. I liked the fact that The October Boy gets a personality and we see that he is not just a monster, but is in fact attempting to get to the same thing that the hunters want. And in fact you soon learn that he is running his own game, and by the end of the book we learn the shocking truth behind the story of The October Boy.
I have seen criticism levelled at the book stating that the characters are all pretty one dimensional, and yes they are. However, The October Boy himself is given nuance and is developed more than some of the other characters. There is an interesting antagonist with Jerry Ricks, seeing how he (and the governing council) hold the town under a hand of fear, and the implications of how it affects the town.
If you liked The Lottery and want to read a Mid western Gothic horror tale, then I think this book may be up your street.