There are some books that are evocative, immersing reads—books that readers struggle to break from in order to attend to daily life. There are books that mesmerize, anesthetize; books that entertain and distract; books that inform, incite. Some books do all of these things, in patches; some go beyond mesmerizing to reach a state of breaking, of shifting.
These are the books that, as if adorned with primordial egg teeth between pages, crack open some previously undiscovered shell interior to readers and open them uncomfortably anew—to new expressions, ideas, histories, feelings, questions, forms of artistry and anxiety. It is, however slightly, a paradigm shift: readers emerge changed.
Stephen Beachy’s boneyard, released this October from Verse Chorus Press, was such a book for me. I found my own change aggravating, like molting; itchy and uncomfortable, shedding skin and feathers I sunk deeper into boneyard like a nightmare so beautiful and compelling that it rendered daylight as false and bittersweet as aspartame. I reacted, strongly, to boneyard, sometimes as if with allergy, other times with intestinal churning or tears; sometimes laughing, most of the time eyes wide with a distinct and wondrous sense of what the fuck?
Told through a collection of stories with reoccurring characters, settings, and themes, boneyard is an experience as much as it is a book. The Verse Chorus Press press packet describes the book as a tale of “a precocious boy caught between Amish culture and the modern world, [who] sits in his sixth-grade classroom writing stories at the behest of a stern but charismatic teacher. Jake’s stories feature children who are crushed, imprisoned, and distorted, yet somehow flailing around with a kind of bedazzled awe, trying to find a way out.” I did research to attempt to understand it—googled, snooped, perused through archived articles and out-of-print books. I wanted to “get it,” as if the experience of reading it could be contained in simple understanding. While reading I felt unmoored—uncertain and suspicious of the author, who never provided the courtesy of stepping off the page to make it easier for us to navigate his underworld Grimm fairy land. Or, not his, purportedly: throughout the book, in footnotes, forewords, back covers, and online blurbs, Beachy persistently insists that he did not write it. Some guy named Jake Yoder did.
So it’s as if the path vanishes as soon as you lift your foot from it. Catty caustic voices hurl insults at one another from bushes to either side as, in front of you, uncertain still, dark shapes suggest that the path continues, winding unpredictably through pain, trauma, and tragedy as cyclical as the reoccurring images of broken bicycle wheels. boneyard is a journey, and your guide—two of whom questionably exist, one of whom is likely lying—are Verse Chorus Press editor Judith Brown, Stephen Beachy himself, and, of course, Jake Yoder; all seem certainly nuts.
Assuming the reader isn’t nuts, as well—and this does seem rather presumptuous to assume of anyone, these days—boneyard can be alienating, even in parts grotesque. It is not an easy or even safe read; it is as troublesome, as real and repetitive, surreal and hypnotizing as a full blown case of post traumatic stress disorder. The question remains, however, as to whose trauma we are journeying through. Yoder’s? Beachy’s? Brown’s? Perhaps it’s a journey through the reader’s own fucked up heart, or, as Beachy himself suggests, the collective fucked up heart of us all: an archetypal survivor lost in a forest of deepening anxieties and elusive dirty rivers.
by Stephen Beachy Verse Chorus Press Paperback, 9781891241338, 208pp