In 1971, the year I was born, THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list, side by side with THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty. This was the dawning of a new age of horror fiction that would last for the next 20-some years — a surge which largely started with the publication of Ira Levin’s ROSEMARY’S BABY in 1967.
Thomas Tryon followed up the success of THE OTHER with his second novel, HARVEST HOME, in 1973. The premise of the novel strikes at the core desire of many who crave a simpler life. I’m guessing it rang true for many back in those days — those who’d spent years watching or participating in the counter-culture movement, the battle for civil rights, the space race, Watergate, and Vietnam. The world probably seemed to be going mad. I’d venture to say it still rings true today; not a week goes by that my wife and I don’t discuss our retirement plans to move to a smaller town, get a simpler job, live a simpler life. It must be the dream of a lot of folks run ragged by cities and high-pressure corporate jobs: find some peace, get back to nature.
In the book, when Ned and his wife Beth are out driving in the countryside, they come across Cornwall Coombe, a quaint, old-fashioned village nestled in the hilly Connecticut countryside. The idyllic town calls to them with its preternatural charm. They eventually transplant their lives and their teenage daughter Kate to this world seemingly untouched by the advancement of time.
As any good reader can guess, this is all too good to be true. Ned soon learns that the community is set very deep in its ways. Despite the church bells every Sunday, the village’s ways are ancient, harkening back to a time of earth-worship and paganism. By the time he begins to discern the full scope of this truth, he and his family are deeply enmeshed in the community. Events that come to pass in the story are incrementally more mysterious and disturbing than what came before. The truth of what sustains this “peaceful” community is a foundation rooted deep in horror and superstition, perpetuated by the town’s matriarch, the Widow Fortune.
HARVEST HOME works well on many levels. It is a story of a marriage through good and bad times, a story of love and yearnings. It is a tale of friendship, the allure of “the old ways,” and teens who long to see the world outside their hometown. As Ned uncovers the town’s mysteries deep in the woods of Soakes Lonesome and the drifting ghosts of the Lost Whistle Bridge, as he watches the annual rituals centered on the sowing and harvest of corn, he learns the true nature of horror lying beneath the idyllic surface, a discovery that soon leads Ned into dangerous territory, and puts his family at the heart of it all.
This feels like a brilliant novel. It certainly helps to understand the climate of the time in which it was written — in the wake of the social upheaval of the 1960s, the 1970s also saw a heightened interest in paganism and the occult. In context of the era, with an understanding of the way horror novels were written in the 1970s, a reader can find a lot to love about HARVEST HOME.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The prose was fantastic. The story contains all the elements one hopes to find in a novel. I recommend this book to fans of literary horror, particularly those who enjoy the great horror novels of the 1970s.