Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest has been on my radar for a couple of years now having won the Bram Stoker award and receiving mentions by SFFWorld's resident Horror Expert Randy. M. The book was published first in limited edition by specialty horror press Cemetery Dance then by Tor with that terrific Jon Foster cover.
Small towns are often the settings for some of the best horror stories. Dark secrets add to the mix, and the sense of everybody knowing everybody, is the tip of the iceberg. In Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest, these elements set the tension for the annual Hallowe’en night event where young boys try to catch the October Boy. Penned up and unfed by their families in the days leading up to Hallowe’en, these boys are released into the town to chase and take down the October Boy. In a sense, this is reminiscent of the mythical Wild Hunt. The boy who takes down the Pumpkin-headed monstrosity gets to leave the dead end town and his family is showered with prizes.
See, nobody ever leaves this unnamed town. Ever. Taking down the October Boy is the only chance anybody has of leaving and Hallowe'en and the hunt for the Boy is the focal point for this small town which has had wonderful crops as long as anybody can remember. Just like young men have been chasing the October Boy for as long as anybody can remember.
Our point-character is Pete McCormick. He’s got father issues, and is determined to win and leave the past and the down behind. We know Pete, or so the narrator tells us, and we do get to know Pete. Pete gets to know more about the October Boy than most other boys who hunt ol’ Hacksaw face, another nickname for the walking Jack O' Lantern.
With a flaming pumpkin-head, the October Boy is that iconic Hallowe’en image personified. That coupled with the evocative fall nights having turned from summer and the bristling cornfields adds to the ghostly, iconic resonance in which Partridge steeps his novel.
Partridge does something interesting with the voice used in the novel, switching from third person omniscient to second person conversational. It works very well on a number of levels, not the least of which is to put the reader into the heart of the story, to feel almost a participant who knows the players. This is an extremely effective way to make the novel all the more intimate.
What turns this novel from something of a typical and straightforward story to a more layered narrative is a little trick Partridge plays about halfway through the novel. The narrative lead me to believe the story was about one character, but Partridge very skillfully, and quickly, turns the story on its rear, and makes it more than just one boy’s wish to escape.
Partridge depicts the teens very well here, they aren’t whiney and are on par (wait for it) with Stephen King’s depictions of the Losers from IT and the kids from his short novel The Body. Sorry, but it is pretty tough not to compare a youthful protagonists in horror novel to Stephen King.
In the end, the imagery is powerful, the themes of youth awakening and small town dark secrets familiar, and the narrative pull thrillingly addictive. The fact that the town is never named and little background is given about the events leading up to those events that take place in the novel, gives the novel a greater sense of mythic resonance. I think it’s pretty fair to say that Norman Partridge has crafted one of those novels readers will return to in future Hallowe’en readings – in other words an iconic novel.