I’m all for writers earning a decent living, getting reviewed by NYT, Kirkus, whatever, and being appreciated by the masses. But with Negative Space, I don’t think it would be realistic to expect such an apologetically queer, bleak, anti-bourgeoise masterpiece could be embraced in 2020 America. But oh boy, does America need this book.
B.R. Yeager took a Fisher-eye lens and built an occult myth of degradation and decline that has been sold to the American youth at the cost of their lives. The suicides are at the heart the novel is the nameless, senseless horror that terrorizes the small town, every town and every city in the country. The lives of the young people, lives unlived, wasted in the aftertaste of the 60s hippy culture who could afford to waste their lives on their WHORL, – those are the ghosts haunting this place. The rituals that the character follow and set up themselves are the least weird part of the characters’ reality, for Yeager takes them back to their original meaning – as a tool to make sense of the unknowable world. And when they can’t make sense of it all anymore, there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.
Jill: “No matter what happens to you, everyone eventually makes you pretend like everything’s back to normal”Negative Space, B.R. Yeager
We go exploring with three main characters – Ahmir, Jill and Lu (who is sometimes Lou, sometimes a he or a she – and nothing about is explained, and neither it should be explained). They barrage the reader with their reality at the intensity of a cover bombing. The trio goes to the same school and is bound with the fourth character – Tyler. Jill and Tyler Ahmir and Tyler are friends, Jill dates Tyler, despite her parents’ displeasure, and Lu is forced to know Tyler because her other two friends know him.
Tyler is a Virgil-like, shamanic figure that guides us deeper and deeper into the WHORL-abusing, self-hanging, 4chan-posting underworld of Kinsfiled, Massachusets. “Everyone knew Tyler was going to die young,” Ahmir says at some point, and this pervasive sense of doom, of inevitable heartbreaking end infects the entire novel and every character that comes into touch with Tyler. Yet none of them shy away from this doom, just like they don’t shy away from the overwhelming feelings of love and dread that feel them, or their sexuality and fragmented personalities and identities. They are not likable people, but that doesn’t invalidate their stories.
And then we have the lingering presence of Werner Baumhauer, a local physician and writer, who tried to weigh his soul by weighing himself before and after hanging himself on those same weighs. His assistant, who weighed the body after the Bauhauer’s death was in for a disappointment.
To delve into the abyss of those suicides and their connection to weight of the soul experiment, Yeager performs vivisection of the way we communicate and build myth of ourselves at school, with friends, and online. He easily achieves it by setting up a standard horror YA novel, a Twin Peaks and Euphoria lovechild if you will, only to pump it full of drugs and then let it, and us, face the world as it is. He doesn’t let you blink until he’s done.
This is for the generation that is not afraid of an empty hotel up in some Colorado mountains because they could never afford to stay in a hotel like that. This is a novel for people trying to make sense of the world through witch TikTok, reading up anarchist theory, and trying not to forget to wear a mask, all while watching their future being gang-raped by rich people and mass shot by incels daily.
It’s a hard book to read – due to the subject matter and the stylistic and structural choices, it’s hard to understand and often even harder to sympathize with the actions of some characters. Yet you don’t want the novel to end, like a fever dream that feels more Real than real.
Anything short of an academic paper barely scratches the surface of Negative Space. How do you discuss the virtual reality and anonymity of forum postings about the hanging – a true negative space, or the social dynamics in the grief-stricken communities that don’t know how to move on when the grief keeps piling up, or the multitude of identities that the character assume throughout the text, or the conflict of the natural vs inorganic and the Real vs real vs surreal? That’s not even the start of it.
With Negative Space, horror once again reaffirms its place at the cutting edge of American literature. “Best horror novel of 2020” assumes that there is a competition and may sound pompous and artificial, but at the very least Americans need this book and they need it now. This is not the future of horror as a lot of my colleagues have said as if B.R. Yeager writes from the future and faxes back the copies of his books (even though I’m sure that’s how he will write a book for Inside the Castle one day). No, Yeagers’ Negative Space is the state of horror today, the rest of us just have a lot of catching up to do.