Irritating Characters Doing Dumb Things Slowly

Author: Thomas Tryon

Ned and Beth are the usual, dissatisfied suburbanites with a living-off-the-land fantasy. When chance brings them through the quaint village of Cornwall Comb, they know they have found a new life. One ruled by harvest and the old ways. It is perfect, idyllic, and too good to be true.

Enter the Widow Fortune, an agrarian symbol of wisdom. Ned and Beth both form friendships with the superstitious, oddly powerful Widow. She even saves their daughter from her life threatening asthma. Yet there is something sinister in all her knowing, her intimations, and in the upcoming ritual celebration of corn, natural cycles, and fertility. Something a little too primeval for comfort.

As Ned begins to follow the legends surrounding the village’s mythical bad year and a rebellious corn maiden known as Grace Everdeen, he starts to suspect his sleepy little village and the changes in his wife and daughter. When a local man appears with his tongue cut out and Ned finds a scull in the woods, he begins to dig deeper into things that no man should ever know.

Harvest Home has an appealing sound to it, the classical set-up where the naïve newbies arrive in a cute little village only to succumb to an ancient horror. But that is all it has. From the very beginning, Ned and Beth are not likable. Their desire for simplicity is an affectation, thinking that farm work is an “easy” way of life and that quaint old customs like a horse and carriage do not carry their own underlying difficulties. Of course, this could be part of the set-up. Any decent horror story requires characters who don’t see the mess they are walking into until it is far too late. Still.

The writing is florid and overblown, usually something that I love. Yet here, it just has more of that affectation. It’s trying too hard for a mood, for a certain type of genre, to really achieve its goal. And then there is the pacing. As pages drag into full chapters to set-up the people and the atmosphere, everything drags into stultifying silence, the “see, isn’t this eerie” town growing wearying and then boring. Nothing happens for a very, very long time. By the time it does, it’s hard to care.

Meanwhile, Ned falls in and out of character. He cares immensely about the one grave situated outside the churchyard, yet his lifelong fear for his daughter’s ill health effortlessly vanishes with a few good weeks. This is a girl whose asthma may kill her – who is almost living in a bubble to sustain life. Yet when the Widow Fortune says she should have a horse, Ned shows no worry about her sudden contact with animals and dander. This key plot point is suddenly, conveniently resolved, until it comes back for a little dramatic showdown and then is forgotten again.

Meanwhile, as Ned plods around the village, painting things and soaking up the local sinister undertones, Tamar Penrose, the village vixen, takes a keen interest in him. She drives a wedge into Ned and Beth’s happily-ever-after and slowly becomes a critical character in a florid, overdone rendition of the bewitching seductress. It’s all very dull, very slow to happen, and interrupted with ample side ramblings that don’t matter.

Finally, in the end, the action suddenly picks up, the last thirty odd pages relating the “secrets” of the village in a very convenient, I-happend-to-be-hiding-under-this-tree-root-at-the-right-time-and-saw-everything way. It’s not earned, and right before the showdown we lose all respect for our protagonist:

*Spoiler Alert!*

Ned rapes Tamar Penrose in a scene that is truly disturbing. We’re in his head at the time, and he is actively hoping he will be able to rape her to death. Nothing is dealt with concerning this aberration in behavior. Ned feels no later guilt and the author doesn’t really touch on it. Tamar is a bewitching woman, after all. She deserved it, right? I don’t need to even state how awful this is, especially as it’s a protagonist’s “justified” action. It’s reprehensible.

*End Spoiler Alert*

In the end, we have a pseudo interesting twist, a brief “ah, that fits in” moment, and then it’s over, thankfully. I was so glad to turn to the last page and be done with this story. It was all so clichéd – the dangerous woman nature/fertility pagan cult in the idyllic creepy village. Nothing was new or surprising here and the slow-as-an-asthmatic-snail-in-a-pollen-storm pace made this read truly torturous. Not recommended at all. I truly hated everything about Harvest Home.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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