There is something distinctively creepy about small towns that like to meddle in your business. Harvest Home by Tom Tryon (1973) had a nice approach to it and Bentley Little brings his own spin to meddling neighbors.
The story follows Barry and Maureen moving into the house of their dreams in Utah’s beautiful Bonita Vista. It didn’t bother them that they had to join a homeowner’s association. They just never realized the Association would invade every aspect of their lives and that the penalty for bending the rules could be the death of them…
Congratulations, Barry and Maureen:
You’ve been approved by the Association and are encouraged to move into your exclusive gated community as soon as possible.
Please be aware that we reserve the right to approve your decor, your landscaping, your friends, and your job.
All relationships with neighbors should be avoided.
Any interference from the outside will not be tolerated.
Any attempt to leave will be stopped.
Any infraction of the rules could result in severe fines, physical punishment, or death.
Please send all other inquiries to the house on the hill. Preferably before dark.
P.S. You’re being watched. Sincerely, THE ASSOCIATION
I loved this book. Horror wise, it appeals to the people who despise the constant scrutiny of watchful neighbors, to people who do not live well under the oppressing thumb of authority and to the rebels who do not like to abide by other people’s rules.
While there are some pretty scary developments – including some dead cats, a man with no limbs haunting a forest path and all sorts of other spooky encounters, I feel that the real horror of the book comes from the knowledge that you would have behaved in the same way under the same circumstances and the unease is real.
The tension climbs from the first few moments – when the two new owners are given a written warning for hosting a garage sale on their property. Then their bushes and plants are uprooted for not having had gone through the proper planning stages with the Association. Their cat is killed as there are no pets allowed on the common grounds. Of course there is little to point back to the actual people that make up the Association and Barry feels like he’s being paranoid.
He gets into a debate with his wife when he receives another warning due to playing music too loud and I think the debate is real and can apply to other areas of life. How much of your personal comfort are you willing to let go of in exchange for living in a secure environment. How many of the personal privileges are you willing to abandon in favor of a Big Brother taking care of you?
Barry is of the opinion that a person can do what he wants in his own home without fear of retribution from an external party. Maureen interjects that a person is entitled to do what they want in their own yard as long as they don’t interfere with other’s people’s way of life. If you play music and it bothers somebody else, you shouldn’t play music.
I agree with both their views but I kept thinking – the forceful application of the neighborhood rules, the policing and the constant snitching and supervision is more like a nanny state where all power has been given to a few privileged people.
There’s no way around it either.
“Because it’s unincorporated. You’re outside the town limits, and since the county maintains only dirt roads, the association is responsible for paving the streets, and all improvements like ditches, abutments what have you. It’s the association that put in the streetlights, that maintains all ditches and storm drains, that will put on any sidewalk or sign.”
This could have made for an amazing short story, or even novella, but coming in at 450+ pages it just dragged towards the end. The main character, Barry, a horror novelist himself, sums it up best in the book with these thoughts:
“He was living in a horror novel. His life had become his work — only he wasn’t sure he could actually sell such oddball shit to readers and have them buy it. Psychotic friends, yes. Ghosts and ageless demons, sure. But a malevolent homeowners’ association that dismembered members for being late with their dues? It was too close to reality to be truly fantastic and thus allow readers to suspend disbelief, yet not realistic enough to be taken seriously on any sort of naturalistic level.”
Read Excerpt: Barnes and Noble excerpt
PS: There is an undead mummy in this book.
PS2: When the association presents itself with a crooked coat-hanger to perform an at-home abortion as per the CCs and Rs of their association guidelines, I was driving and going