Harvest Home (novel)
Harvest Home cover
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|LC Class||PZ4.T8764 Har PS3570.R9|
Harvest Home is a 1973 novel by Thomas Tryon, which he wrote following his critically acclaimed 1971 novel, The Other. Harvest Home was a New York Times bestseller. The book became an NBC mini-series in 1978 titled The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, which starred Bette Davis (as Mary Fortune) and David Ackroyd (as Nick). The mini-series was generally quite faithful to the plot of the book.
Ned Constantine, his wife Beth, and their daughter Kate relocate from New York City to an isolated Connecticut village named Cornwall Coombe where Ned can pursue an artistic career. The villagers adhere stubbornly to what they call "the old ways", eschewing modern agricultural methods and limiting contact with the outside world. The villagers celebrate a number of festivals that revolve around the cultivation of corn, which is their chief product. The most important rite is Harvest Home, which takes place at the conclusion of the crop-growing year.
Prominent villagers who become friends with the newcomers are Worthy Pettinger, a young man who disdains the old ways and wants to go to agricultural college; Robert Dodd, his blind and housebound neighbor; Justin Hooke, who serves as the current year's ceremonial "Harvest Lord", and his wife Sophie, whom Justin has chosen to be his "Corn Maiden" in the approaching "Corn Play"; and Mary Fortune, a widowed herbalist and midwife, and the town's most influential resident.
During a harvest service in church, Worthy loudly curses the corn and "the Mother" and then flees. The community is scandalized and Worthy's parents are ostracized by the villagers. Ned becomes more intent on unravelling the village's secrets while his personal life goes awry. Tamar Penrose, the postmistress, seduces him. He learns that the women of Cornwall Coombe practice pagan fertility rites connected to the earth mother. Beth, aware of Tamar's designs on him, grows distrustful of Ned. For his part, Ned becomes suspicious of the upcoming Harvest Home, but the most anyone will tell him is that it is "what no man may see nor woman tell."
The villagers, having learned Worthy's location from a letter he sent to Ned, send a posse to find him. He is returned home and killed. They hang his corpse in a field as a scarecrow and later fling it into a massive bonfire on Kindling Night. On the day of Harvest Home, Justin's wife Sophie, the new Corn Maiden, hangs herself. She is denied burial in consecrated ground on the orders of the Widow Fortune. Ned denounces the villagers at the church and the widow, a revered high priestess, declares him an outcast. Ned is imprisoned but escapes.
Finding his car missing, Ned goes to his neighbor Robert to use the phone, but finds the line dead. Robert tells Ned that all the phones in town have been disabled for Harvest Home and that all the cars have been confiscated until morning. Robert reveals that he himself was blinded for attempting to discover the secret of the Harvest Home and begs Ned not to go out again. Ned goes instead to find his wife and daughter, who have gathered with the other women for the rites.
The village women have chosen the new Corn Maiden who is heavily veiled; Ned believes she is Tamar. She departs with the other women and Justin for the Harvest Home ritual. Ned races to the forest clearing ahead of them, determined to discover what happens there. He watches the women play out the rites, which includes the copulation of the Harvest Lord with the Corn Maiden to symbolically ensure the fertility of the Mother. To Ned's horror, the new Corn Maiden is not Tamar, it is Beth. Ned cries out, alerting the women to his presence. He is forced to watch while Justin and Beth complete their intercourse, finally learning why Worthy had tried to escape and why Sophie killed herself: Justin's throat is cut with a sickle as he climaxes, spilling his blood onto the ground throughout the clearing. The villagers allowed Ned's family to settle here in order to bring new blood, Beth's and Kate's, into Cornwall Coombe. Ned tries to escape but the women surround him and render him blind and mute.
Months later, the blind, dependent Ned learns both that Beth is pregnant and that Kate is destined to be the next Corn Maiden.
In a 1973 book review by Kirkus Reviews called the book "not only tethered to considerable earlier Americana but sometimes garroted by it—there's too much corn to husk before the last loaded third of the book." Writing in 1976 for The New York Times, Stephen King wrote, "It isn’t a great book, not a great horror novel, not even a great suspense novel... Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, it is a true book; it is an honest book in the sense that it says exactly what Tryon wanted to say. And if what he wanted to say wasn’t exactly Miltonian, it does have this going for it: in forty years, when most of us are underground, there will still be a routine rebinding once a year for the library copies of “Harvest Home".'
- Drebit, Scott. "It Came From The Tube: THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME (1978)". DAILY DEAD. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
- "Harvest Home". Kirkus Reviews. June 18, 1973.
- King, Stephen (October 24, 1976). "Not Guilty: The Guest Word". The New York Times.