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Book review: 'Pale Harvest' explores a dark side of rural America

"PALE HARVEST," by Braden Hepner, Torrey House Press, $16.96, 366 pages (f)

Jack Selvedge has worked and lived on his grandparents' dairy farm since his parents' untimely death. He enjoys farm work and chooses to stay on the farm against the objections of his grandma, who wishes he would go to college.

Jack, the main character in “Pale Harvest” by Idaho author Braden Hepner, lives in the fictional small northern Utah town of Juniper Scrag, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the prominent religion. While Jack no longer attends church, he isn’t ready to abandon the faith of his youth. He struggles to balance the faith he feels in his heart and the doubts that nag him.

His daily routine consists of farm chores during the day and watching his friends get drunk at night and rant against the LDS Church and the town they feel stuck in.

The routine is broken up by the unexpected return of Rebekah Rainsford, a young woman who moved away and is now a beautiful woman. Rebekah and her mother have come back to town to escape Rebekah’s father.

Rebekah catches the eye of all the men in the community, but she is interested in Jack. As their relationship and trust in one another grows, the town residents deal with tragedy when a young farmhand is found dead in collapsed hay bales. This event jump-starts the final events of the book, including an act against Rebekah that many would consider worse than death.

Hepner grew up in Cache Valley, worked on a dairy farm regularly and is a returned Mormon missionary. His descriptions of the farm work show his experience in the field.

He is a talented writer, and his writing in "Pale Harvest," his debut novel, creates tension and instills a desire in the reader to unravel the mysteries surrounding his characters and their motivations. The story is dark, with very little light able to penetrate the horrible things that happen. It can be depressing as nothing good ever seems to happen.

His prose is occasionally too ornate and can pull the reader out of the story instead of allowing for a smooth read.

"Pale Harvest" includes swearing and vulgarity throughout, including strong language that becomes more frequent as the book goes on, and some sexual situations that are mostly just alluded to, but there are a couple of scenes with brief descriptions. Violent and vile acts are committed against men and women, with several scenes of violence being detailed, and suicide happens and is discussed.

If you go ...

What: Braden Hepner book signing

When: Thursday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City


Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Boanerges Lewis is a student at the University of Utah, a lover of reading, and in search of all that is entertaining and interesting in our world. His email is