B.R. Yeager’s Negative Space lives up to its name. It’s a book that seeps of negativity; sadness, indifference, grief, and an insurmountable weight of hopelessness that I hope to never revisit any time soon. Please dear reader, don’t take this as a condemnation of Mr. Yeager’s tome of loss, psychedelia, nihilism, and destructive escapism. Take it merely as a fair warning that what you’re entering into contract with is a book about looking for a way out of the pain of feeling alone. Alone in a world that is relentless in its pursuit to point out the obvious; that it all means nothing so you might as well say fuck it and destroy yourself in the best way possible.
The story takes place in a small New England town, a lot like most mid-level cities that have just enough to keep you occupied but not enough to help you evolve. It’s told from the point of view of three teenagers: Jill, Lu, and Ahmir. They all orbit around Tyler, a kid constantly looking and searching for something more. He’s the romantic interest of both Jill and Ahmir and introduces them both to getting high and looking past the veil of reality. In their small town there have been a rash of suicides that have happened on and off for 20 years, and Tyler feels there’s a connection between the suicides and a physician/philosopher named Baumhauer who was deemed the “Modern Saint of Suicide” for his obsession of wanting to measure the human soul. This group of teens get obsessed with expanding to the “other side” by using a psychotropic drug called WHORL, which was a legal drug they could buy at gas station counters(along with Yellow Jackets, synthetic weed, and scratch offs.) From that point, the book drops into a world of hallucinations, psychedelic explorations, sexual and spiritual journeys, and a drop into absolute madness.
I won’t say anymore about the story, as I don’t want to ruin what is waiting in those pages for anyone. Also, because I’m still processing the book myself. I just finished after a four-day deep dive. On the surface, this book seems like bored suburban kids dropping out, getting drunk, exploring sexually and chemically, and not really giving a shit about anything. Empty shells attempting to fill their pointless lives with as much bad juju as they can. But that’s just a cover. What this book feels like to me is a grand dive into dealing with grief and loss; patting out the fire of hopelessness with chemicals, bogus spirituality, and attempting to make sense of death. Yeager writes a book that tackles a basic definitive we must endure as humans: loss. And not just loss, but a violent taking of someone we love and coping with that essential person’s tearing from our lives.
B.R. Yeager paints this black light tapestry with poetically gruesome detail. Strokes of King, Poe, Lovecraft; as well as Dennis Cooper and Chuck Palahniuk dissolve into Yeager’s canvas of a haunted New England town. Reading this book I was also reminded of films like River’s Edge, Over The Edge, Kids, and the new age-y doom of Beyond The Black Rainbow.
Maybe because I didn’t grow up with friends like Tyler, Ahmir, and Jill, I can’t really relate to their behaviors. I found them rather atrocious at times. But there is an evolution that happens with some of them. I guess I was a little more stable in my “acting out” phase of adolescence. I wasn’t chewing on purple leaves, cutting designs into my arms with a box cutter, or smoking bowls in my bedroom. But Yeager paints a world of such disillusionment and disconnected adults that I can see why these kids were doing what they were doing to some degree. And really, this is all a means to an end. Dead end suburbia is merely a stage where we’re left to act out some kind of closure for these characters. Characters looking for something more than what their lower-middle class existence allows them. Maybe watching the world turn to black string and melt is the answer to suburban bloat and disenchanted youth.
Negative Space is a book about grief and dealing with it. But it’s told in a fantastical and horrifying way that will haunt you long after you finish reading it. It’s sci/fi, occult, body horror, supernatural, and psychological horror all rolled into a teen drama on psilocybin.
There is no easy way to come to terms with suicide. It’s a nasty, violent dance for one that affects many. There is no comforting way to cope with that kind of loss. But maybe there can be catharsis in it. Taking that hole and filling it with a story with purple and black hues of deranged enlightenment and psychedelic horror is better than just leaving the hole empty. A gash in the earth left to fill with dead leaves, acid rain, and industrial garbage. Fill it with your own horror; horror you can understand and make it into ugly art. It may be ugly, but it’s still art nonetheless.
B.R. Yeager’s Negative Space is not the easiest trip, but one I won’t soon forget.
Buy Negative Space here.