A writing prodigy is discovered; not long thereafter, his identity comes into question. If this sounds something like the late-Nineties/early-Aughts saga of JT LeRoy, it should. And if anyone should know better than to attempt a literary hoax, you'd think it would be Stephen Beachy, whose 2005 article in New York magazine outed Laura Albert as the woman behind the celebrated fiction of LeRoy. "As I became more familiar with the case of JT LeRoy," said Beachy, who now teaches in USF's MFA writing program, "I began to seriously think about our culture's fetish for authorial biography. I thought JT's work itself was pretty awful, but everybody loved the idea of the little wunderkind who had supposedly written it. And then, a year later, if you believe the preface of boneyard, I met little Jake Yoder."
Ah, yes, if you believe the preface of Beachy's latest novel — therein lies the rub. Questions of authenticity roil through the pages of boneyard, which Beachy calls a "collaborative" novel, the skeleton of which was supposedly assembled by Amish teen Jake Yoder, whose work Beachy claims to have discovered and then saved from the young man's attempts to burn the stories he had come to deem sinful. Convinced the stories were destined for literary greatness — as a rare example of Amish literature, at the very least — USF professor Beachy hung meat on the text where necessary. Verse Chorus Press then agreed to publish the novel, though Beachy's editor, Judith Owsley Brown, expresses her doubt regarding the existence of Yoder in boneyard's preface, extending that skepticism to Beachy's sanity (and that of his therapist) in a series of footnotes that bubble and whisper from the book's margins, occasionally (and quite purposely) distracting from the narrative proper.
Boneyard is a grotesque funhouse of kinky sex (often with gas masks on), egregious footnoting, child abuse, delusions of rock 'n' roll grandeur, and he-said-she-said narrative finger-pointing. "Open conflict seems equally as collaborative as a veneer of polite respect," said Beachy of his back-and-forth with (probably fictional) editor Owsley Brown. "I can't speak for Judith and Jake, but I definitely felt us merging more toward the end of the book, losing our boundaries a bit."
It should come as no surprise that I wasn't quite sure how much faith to have in Beachy (who appears with San Francisco author Alvin Orloff on Sunday, November 6, at Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland) once I'd turned the last page of boneyard. I likened it to finishing a psychedelic trip — should I trust the guy who sold me the drugs? While Beachy is not giving up the goods on the actual existence of Yoder (who has more than one thousand friends on Facebook), he can be trusted to have a sense of humor.
"You should definitely trust me more than someone who would dose you without your consent," said Beachy. "I would hope you would trust me exactly the same amount as someone who gave you quality drugs that nonetheless ripped away the veils of illusion to reveal the gaping maw of the underworld or the void or whatever it is underneath each and every one of us, where our identities are likely to be ripped to shreds — like in Beavis' peyote trip in Beavis and Butthead Do America." 3 p.m., free. 510-653-9965 or DieselBookstore.com