“I wasn’t there but I can see it in my mind. I know what it was like. I know it like a dream. In that way, it’s still happening, and always will be.” Echoing, contradicting prose like this haunts every crevice of B.R. Yeager’s 2020 horror novel Negative Space. Published on March 1st, 2020, the epidemic of teen suicides in the small fictional town of Kinsfield, New Hampshire directly mirrors the pandemic in which the real world would soon find itself. Negative Space blurs the lines between different realities and timelines. Through the daze of a new illicit hallucinogen, cryptic 4chan posts, and the general musings of chronically online teenagers, memories transcend the traditional boundaries of bodies to a shared identity amongst the residents of Kinsfield, NH.
Suicides are nothing new in Kinsfield, but the frequency at which they occur definitely isn’t. From morbid fascination to desensitized disconnection, the teenagers cope with their fellow classmates’ deaths over school lunch or various 4chan boards. It’s more important to keep up with their steady drug use than face the anguish of the world around them. One character, Jill, pops Ativan all day long. Two others, Tyler and Ahmir, pack a bowl during school lunch. All of them partake in WHORL, a new drug on the scene. It’s something different than your traditional hallucinogen: while high on it, users seem to reach a new level of consciousness. It’s called the “scrying drug” for a good reason, and teens Tyler, Jill, Lu, and Ahmir are some of its newest addicts.
Negative Space is told from three(ish) different first person perspectives: Jill, Lu and Ahmir. Each are eccentric outcasts, linked together through their self-destructive mutual friend Tyler. Bold headings indicate who’s talking, but as the story progresses, it becomes unclear whose memories are really being relayed to the reader. It’s hard to piece through the disturbing yet strangely alluring imagery to figure out what’s truly going on. Whose perspective can we trust? Tyler is the first one to go. Not in the traditional sense of a suicide like the ones so commonplace in the novel, but the first to change. The first to become involved with a world that is not our own. It starts slowly at first, little things out of the ordinary, but nothing too worrying until Tyler shows up at Jill’s family’s Thanksgiving, bleeding all out from multiple cuts. It’s hard to escape whatever evil Tyler has reawoken into the world through his occult rituals. And there are these strings, both literally and figuratively, that connect them all.
Negative Space found me at just the right time; disillusioned from traditional YA literature, yet not feeling represented in adult fiction, this book perfectly embodied the isolation I felt rotting inside my bedroom, eyes glued to my computer to keep the outside world at bay. Once you put it down, it doesn’t leave your mind. “Suicides go on forever,” Jill muses towards the beginning of the book. B.R. Yeager has taken traditional horror to the next level; Negative Space has some of the best horror prose I’ve ever read. But what sticks out the most is how Yeager perfectly encapsulates “Gen Z Culture,” throwing in references to sites like Discord and even using modern slang correctly. I couldn’t help but feel like this book understood me. Perhaps because Yeager’s from Massachusetts like me, or we’re both Twitter addicts, but for a millennial writing about teenagers today, he’s done a fantastic job. Yeager once said in an interview a good horror book will “fuck [him] up. [He] want[s] to be ruined by it.” I think he’s done just that through Negative Space. I haven’t read anything like this before and I doubt I ever will for quite some time.