Dark Harvest, by Norman Partridge (2006)

The October Boy Drops to the Ground.

Cover image to Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

The small Midwestern town in which this novel takes place is much like any other. There’s a town drunk, a local sheriff, some good kids, and a few bad. Of course, these are all just cosmetic similarities. The real differences lie beneath the surface, a dark and arcane pact that goes back so far, there may not be anyone left who remembers how it began. They certainly know the logistics of it, though.

Every Halloween, the ritual unfolds. After having been imprisoned without food for five days, every boy between the ages of 16 and 18 are unleashed upon the town with little to no rules of conduct. Their one mission is to destroy the October Boy, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow who is magically brought to life. Similarly, the October Boy has a mission of his own: get to the church at the center of town before midnight by any means possible. Whichever boy kills the scarecrow is declared the winner, his family given a new house and car, and he’s whisked out of this one-horse town to start his new life—the dream of nearly every teenager trapped in dullsville. And if the October Boy makes it to the church? Well, that’s never actually happened…but there’s a first time for everything.

We follow a number of characters throughout the length of the novel, but our main protagonist is Pete McCormick, a troubled and headstrong 16 year old whose strongest desire is to get the Hell out of Dodge and just might have the gumption to pull it off. The October Boy (also referred to as Sawtooth Jack and Ol’ Hacksaw Face) is easy to refer to as a scarecrow, but that’s only partially true—he’s not stuffed with straw, but rather his body is made of living vines that sprout only in the days leading up to Halloween. With a Jack-o-lantern face, a butcher knife in hand, and body cavities crammed full of sugary treats, he makes for a great character whose true nature gives him even more depth once it’s revealed. The truest antagonist, though, is all too human—the aggressive and fearsome sheriff who is responsible for keeping order as well as secrets.

This was author Norman Partridge’s sixth published novel (first published in 2006 by Cemetery Dance), and was my introduction to his work. The story is told in a combination of second- and third-person, as if the narrator were recounting the story directly to you—which is always an offbeat method. The writing style is unusual in that there’s a fast-paced, clipped blue-collar rhythm to it that I’ve scarcely seen elsewhere. If Jack Kerouac and his compatriots were composing jazz, I can only believe that Partridge is writing rockabilly. I admit that the style was initially off-putting, but I warmed up to it soon enough. It kept the story cruising along at a good speed, zooming from one scene to the next with little downtime.

Partridge has managed to take a few well-worn horror tropes and, although he doesn’t completely rewrite them, does keep them interesting. He successfully captures the feeling of an endless autumn night, but unfortunately not the distinct flavor of Halloween. I suppose that’s due to the very nature of the story—you can’t very well have children trick-or-treating on the same night as the teenagers are trying to kill the October Boy; nor would townsfolk put too much effort into decorating their homes when their town literally falls victim to the supernatural every year.

I know that not every book should be turned into a film, but some material is just ripe for a cinematic adaptation. Dark Harvest is one example, as I believe that it could make a fantastic movie in the right hands. Picture it as a cross between PUMPKINHEAD and THE PURGE, and you’ll see that I’m right.

Get on it, Hollywood!

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