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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling Story of the Midwest in the Early 1900's, April 1, 2007
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
Life in the Midwest of the United States was hard for farmers at the beginning of the 20th century. Farmers were still using methods similar to the methods of 200 years earlier. As always, farmers were at the mercy of the weather. However, sometimes farmers could be at the mercy of their fellow man.

Will Krouse was living the hard life of a farmer in Penn County, Indiana. Though uneducated, Will knew about farming and was successful. Will had married his childhood sweetheart, Rebecca, and was raising a house full of children. The future looked bright for Will and his family.

Doctor Earl Slayer, Jr., should have been happy. He was well educated and prosperous. Doc Slayer was also a powerful man in Penn County, but he had yet to obtain the one thing he longed for more than anything, Rebecca Krouse. Doc Slayer always thought that he and Rebecca were destined to be together. Doc Slayer's longing has festered for many years; he sees a chance to manipulate events when acquaintance Wendell Gates, I say acquaintance because men like Doc Slayer rarely have friends, runs for sheriff. Doc Slayer only wants one thing from Wendell when he wins: Doc Slayer wants a position at the Long Pointe asylum for the insane.

Wendell becomes sheriff and Doc Slayer lays the ground work to place Will Krouse into Long Pointe and under his control. However, Doc Slayer little realizes the effect that Will Krouse will have on the lives of many people in Penn County and at the Long Pointe asylum. Before Will has an opportunity to change anyone's life, he has to save himself from the hell into which he has descended at Long Pointe, a hell from which few have ever returned.

"Scattered Harvest" is a novel that has several levels. On the surface it is about how we are unable to predict the course of our lives. At a deeper level the book is about how the forces of evil can scatter all the good deeds of a man and the kind of perseverance and will it takes to overcome those forces. But this novel is also about hope and faith. If you wish to find a standard of good against which to measure yourself, try Will Krouse.

Thomas Ray Crowel has written a chilling novel that is scarier because it was inspired by a true story. Crowel pulls no punches as he takes us into the sordid world of a Doctor who is most likely insane and an attendant at the asylum who is most certainly insane. These two individuals provide the contrast with the morals and predictable and normal life of Will Krouse. The language and descriptions in this novel are quite adult and graphic, so be sure you are prepared for events that may seem unbelievable, but aspects of which have been documented in detail by historians. Crowel does an all too good job of describing the conditions of insane asylums at the beginning of the 20th century. He also does an all too good job of showing how one man could manipulate many in a small environment.

Though I found this book to be disturbing, I also found it difficult to put down. This fictional story with its roots in fact reminds us once again that the kinds of things we do to each other can be awful and disgusting.

I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction, particularly the seedier aspects of history. Crowel's description of farming in the U.S. Midwest is excellent and well-researched. If you are looking for historical fiction about the descendants of Europeans who settled in the Midwest, this book will be a unique find. I also recommend you get this one before it becomes a film.

This review is based on a copy of the book provided to me by the author.

Enjoy!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, moving story., March 10, 2007
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
I'm a huge Leisha Kelly fan and this book is very similar. It gives you the feeling of being in the time period and what it must have been like for the poor, mistreated people in mental facilities back at the turn of the century. It is told like your truly with the charaters the whole way. If you have read any of Leisha Kelly's novels, you will love this.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There are too many people who are too passive in the face of evil deeds to be believable, April 15, 2007
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
This is a disturbing book to read, largely because you intuitively understand the truth behind a major facet of the plot. The setting is Penn County, Indiana in the early 1900's. Several generations of the Krouse family have farmed in the area and the latest is Will, whose father died while trying to move a large boulder from his field. In a fitting tribute, that very boulder became his father's gravestone.

Modern farming techniques are starting to be adopted in the area, but Will is still using his Belgian horses to pull the machinery and milks his cows by hand. He is also teaching his children the same techniques, has a lovely wife Becky and is a very happy man. Unfortunately, the other people in the community have not reached such a level of contentment.

Since Will was the farmer of his siblings, he received the best land from his father. This has made his greedy brother Cecil jealous, so Cecil appears on occasion trying to grab all he can. However, the real problem is Dr. Earl Slayer Jr., a man who inherited the name and occupation of his father but absolutely none of his decency. Slayer still covets Becky and when she gets sick and he is called to attend to her, sexually molests here. When Will comes to her aid and punches Slayer out, it is Will who is punished by being sent to the mental institution called Long Pointe. Becky dies and Will's children are spread out to various homes where their treatment is not always the best.

This is where the book becomes disturbing, as Long Pointe is a brutal and sadistic place. The patients are mistreated and Will is regularly beaten on Dr. Slayer's orders. Female patients are raped by the attendants and when they become pregnant their children are taken away and sold. The food is often spoiled and there is no real attempt to treat them. They are beaten if they show humanity and resist and they are beaten when they become despondent and unresponsive. Unfortunately, this is the way it was in so many mental institutions in those years.

Despite all of the tragedy, there is a bit of a happy ending. Dr. Slayer eventually pays for his barbarous acts and Will manages to escape from Long Pointe and starts to rebuild his life. There are a large number of other characters in the book, from the "flat-backers" (prostitutes), to an honest but somewhat inept Sheriff, another doctor at Long Pointe who is well-meaning but totally clueless, and many other bit players who all seem to just sit back and let things unfold without any meaningful response on their part.

The great weakness in the book is the passivity of so many people, not only those who know Will, but also the people at the mental institution. There is no one who seems to have a real spark of anger in them, which goes against the knowledge I have of farm people. They are people who make their living via their efforts and react very negatively to people in authority telling them what to do. While murders and rapes most certainly took place in mental hospitals, the sheer openness and brutality with which it is carried out in this story is beyond the usual believability limits. That is the primary reason why I give it four stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A disarmingly powerful, thought-provoking read, June 30, 2007
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
Scattered Harvest is quite an interesting novel - in terms of writing style as well as content. Honestly, as I opened the book to begin reading it, I wasn't quite sure that the story was going to truly capture my attention. Maybe it was just the bucolic background of an early twentieth century farming community that had me thinking nothing momentous could possibly happen in this environment - but then I met Dr. Earl Slayer, Jr., one of the most despicable characters I've come across in some time.

The family of Will Crouse seems to be Americana personified. A fourth-generation Penn County (Indiana) farmer, Will has everything a man could ask for - a beautiful, loving wife, four adorable children, and a productive piece of land to call his own. Then he has to come to grips with the fact that his increasingly sickly wife is dying of consumption (tuberculosis), a killer that has already touched his family deeply in the past. Like many men, he internalizes his emotions, which just allows his stress level to build up. Unable to count on his no-good brother, he wonders how he will be able to run the farm on his own (his kids are still too young to be of significant help to him), and all of the stress soon turns him in to a shell of the man he once was. Even as all of his friends and family worry about his lack of responsiveness and tendency to wander, his old friend Doc Slayer plans the destruction of this man who married the girl he always wanted for himself.

Having helped get an acquaintance elected sheriff, Doc Slayer uses that influence to get an appointment at Long Pointe, a nearby insane asylum. Then, after committing an unimaginably horrible act that justifiably antagonizes his old enemy, he gets Will sent to Long Pointe, as well - but certainly not as a doctor. The second half of the novel relates and reveals the kinds of torturous, sadistic treatment many an "insane" person received at these old-style mental hospitals. Patients were completely at the mercy of their "caregivers," no matter what their mental capacities or states of mind, and mental and physical abuse at the hands of even interns and attendants was rampant. Now exactly where Doc Slayer wanted him, Will is routinely beaten and abused just to feed Slayer's blood lust against him. Will's only source of hope and sanity is the hospital's farm, which he helps turn into something that will benefit the starving inmates rather than the wallets of the administrators alone.

The author reportedly researched the barbarities of the treatment of the "insane" during this early twentieth century era, and he brings those horrible facts to light time and again in this novel. It's pretty horrific stuff, especially given the innocence and goodness inherent in a patient such as Will - although the beatings he takes hardly compare to the heartless wrongs committed against some of the female patients.

Thomas Ray Crowel doesn't delve deeply into the minds of his characters the way many an author would, relying primarily on description and dialogue to define them for the reader, yet he manages to reveal their personalities and true natures to the degree that you feel as if you know them all rather intimately. Even secondary characters are quite interesting. The new sheriff, Wendell, is not so much torn between good and evil as he is passive in the face of decision-making. He knows Will isn't insane, and after a certain point he actually owes his life to Will, yet he executes his duties without raising any questions. In the insane asylum, the administrator knows that patients are being mistreated, and she even chastises those responsible for it, but she never does anything to stop them. It's almost like everyone - or almost everyone - in this story is somehow incomplete. A number of men have the power to do something about the tragedy that befalls Will as he is locked away and his family scattered, but they all fail to act; meanwhile, the women, even those who practice the world's oldest profession, know what needs to be done but, in the context of their early twentieth century society, are powerless to act.

Crowel strikes just the right cord with a rather philosophical ending, leaving the reader with much to reflect upon after finishing the novel. Scattered Harvest is well worth the read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel That Keeps Your Attention, June 7, 2007
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
Thomas Ray Crowel's novel SCATTERED HARVEST is definitely a page turner for the author certainly can spin a yarn. He informs the reader that his story is based in part on real places and real locations. Set in the early 1900's in rural Indiana, the novel is abundant with characters. The protagonist who represents good is Will Krouse, a dairy farmer, who is pitted against Doctor Earl Slayer, Junior--are we to make something out of his last name-- who is the imbodiment of evil. The central conflict in this novel has to do with Slayer's intention to destroy Krouse. Ostensibly he hates Krouse so much because he has always been in love with Krouse's wife Becky; but his animus (it seems to me) goes far and away beyond simple jealousy and remains a mystery. He is every bit as evil as Shakespeare's Iago whose hatred of Othello has puzzled the critics for several hundred years.

The conditions and some of the events that take place in Long Pointe, an institution for the insane defy description. One has to assume, however, that Mr. Crowel's account is accurate since he in his Epilogue lists sources he has consulted on the conditions of asylums for the insane at this time in our nation's history.

Mr. Crowel is good at getting details accurate for rural America in the early 1900's. Becky, Will's wife, for example, dies of "consumption," an older word for tuberculosis. Ruby, one half of a set of twins who are "employed" upstairs at Honey Boy's Tavern, remembers growing up in a tar paper shanty. Will gives another character a square of tobacco, also known as a plug of tobacco. Aaron, the son of Will and Becky, remembers that his mother always told him to wash behind his ears since this story is set in a time before ordinary people had showers and fancy bathrooms.

Occasionally Mr. Crowel talks to the reader much as an actor from a Shakespeare play turns and speaks to the audience. This device works best if the author addresses the "dear reader" as the author does in his epilogue. Case in point: At the beginning of Chapter 7, there is a very moving paragraph on tragedy ("we will sit in a room waiting for someone to die, knowing that whatever happens we still have to fix supper for the kids,"). The problem, however, is that these words are not the thoughts of Will; they are just interjected in the narrative. This is certainly a minor quibble, however, about a story that never slows down or becomes dull. Mr. Crowel in the end ties up all the different threads of the plot in a way that will please anyone who reads his novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just try and put this down.........., June 11, 2007
By 
M. Bayer (Highland, Indiana USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Hardcover)
So I opened this book and within the 1st chapter I was hooked. The story brought out all sorts of emotions. I could go on and on about how beautifully this book was written, so I will be brief as so not to take away time from reading it! Characters that you felt you knew on a personal level, you could feel their joy and pain. The way the author described the time and place, you felt as though you were there. I am not one for writing reviews but this novel moved me in such a way that I had to "spread the word".... As I'm sure you will too!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A nice surprise from my norm..., September 12, 2014
By 
GEMSTONES (West Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Scattered Harvest (Kindle Edition)
This book was a little different from what I usually read, but I found it a very good book. Some of the topics were hard to imagine and deal with. You always found your way rooting for the hero. The ending was a little abrupt, but doable. Will be looking for more from this author.
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Scattered Harvest
Scattered Harvest by Thomas Ray Crowel
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