Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon is a novel that I cannot believe I had not yet read. I am sure there are many more but this one surprised me because it is firmly in the horror genre, my favorite. The novel wanders its way through a landscape of many stories and themes that are revealed by protagonist Ned who occasionally halts to examine a particular theme through introspection. Ned looks at the devotion Maggie shows in the care of the semi-invalid Robert. He reflects on the relationship of unequivocal commitment and devotion. Ned observes the benefits of the “country mouse becoming a city mouse” as he moves wife Beth and daughter Kath to the village of Cornwall Coombe. Ned reflects on the benefits of strong relationships present in a rural setting that are absent in an urban one. Ned examines superstitious practices that govern daily activities of his village neighbors. He reflects on what he must do to show respect for practices he doesn’t believe in so that he might gain acceptance by the villagers.
All of this introspection might make for dull reading that resembles turgid exposition of philosophy but that is not the case. Along the winding path of storytelling, there are frequent surprises. They are small, large, and unpredictable. It is not the case that the story builds slowly with a small surprise leading to a larger one and so on until a really surprising ending. Readers following paths without foreknowledge of Tryon’s work might think they can guess the surprise ending but they will most likely be wrong. Tryon suggests a logical ending, the reader is led along a winding path. I believe most readers will not guess the ending. It is a highly satisfying ending for readers with a certain set of beliefs; it will be a horribly sad, despairing end for others.
Opponents of a patriarchal society will love this novel. In Cornwall Coombe women rule. While there are stereotypical characterizations of females as kind, nurturing caregivers, there are also portrayals of women with the ability to commit atrocities in the name of preserving values they think important. The Widow appears as a benevolent dictator. She rules the village from the vantage point of knowledge is power. She knows how to cure ills. She mixes and dispenses potions that can cure warts, induce pregnancy and maybe bring people back from the dead. This leads naturally into the preparation of charms that can be worn to protect a villager from misfortune in the future. But she is not a witch. That might be the role of Missy, a young girl with a different way of expressing herself as she affects villager behavior. Missy, daughter of Tamar the postmistress, doesn’t say anything clearly; she implies things. The Widow is her occasional interpreter.
Tamar is a seductress and functions as the village postmistress. Thus she is the person who knows much gossip and many secrets. Her actions border on those of the wicked witch of the west. While the Widow is the grand planner in her rule of the village, Tamar is an executrix. Will she succeed in her goal of seducing Ned? A reader will have mixed answers on this question. No matter which way that goes, what will be the effect on Ned’s wife, Beth or his daughter, Kath.
Aside from the fascinating characters, readers will be interested in the rites and ceremonies that make up several smaller festivals culminating in the annual Harvest Home ceremony. All ceremonies support the novel’s central theme of the center of all creation, the meaning of existence, the higher power ruling us all. Following a decidedly feminist theme, the central idea (not a spoiler) is described well by a quote: “She is all of woman, and more. She bears as a woman bears. She gives and sustains as a woman does, but a woman dies, being mortal. But she is not. She is ever fruitful. She is the Mother.” (loc 4904-4905). What could this mean? Read the novel. I highly recommend this novel which I gave five stars.
And now I will go to read Other novels by Thomas Tryon (pun alert).