“This morning I crossed a river on a horse made of lightbulbs.”
That’s just another day (June 4, to be exact) in Bob Schofield’s The Inevitable June (theNewerYork Press, 120 pages), an agreeably strange book structured around an unnamed narrator’s calendar for the month of June. Using text, cartoons and distinctive graphics, it is unclassifiable in terms of genre but it manages to create a self-contained world of its own.
“This morning I locked into a staring contest with an ice sculpture version of my inner child.”
That’s how June 13 begins. Why? It’s difficult to say (for me at least). Linearity, such as it exists, is provided by the chronological conceit of the calendar, and elements of plot can be discerned, but on the whole Schofield is wary of cause and effect. A preface to the book by Aaron Burch underlines the importance of an element of surprise, referring to “metaphors and outcomes that aren’t quite what you expect, are a little off, but they do so purposefully, interestingly.”
The undercurrent or illusion of purpose helps to sustain a perplexed reader’s interest and even, paradoxically, makes the book seem more “true” to experience than more conventional accounts. This is because what can be easily paraphrased often falls short of capturing how life actually feels. To live is to grope, and we grope more than we seize. Perplexity, artfully rendered, is its own kind of truth.
In Schofield’s prose, the imagery is reminiscent of Henry Miller in his Black Spring period, the surrealistic pieces like “Jabberwhorl Cronstadt” or “Walking Up and Down in China.” Schofield is fascinated by verticality, by pressures on surfaces, by falling. Miller’s “China” is found in the streets of Paris; Schofield’s narrator is variously located with his head in a box or in a closet or buried under the sea. He is also fascinated by the sky.
“June 12: This morning I swear I saw a glass airplane falling out of the sky. All the clouds got cuts on their fingertips. I’ve heard the glass airplane industry is going through some hard times.
You can see it all over the ground.
A moment of silence then, for those brave old men building glass airplanes in a furnace, and two moments for the invisible people who choose to fly them.”
But the prose imagery is just one ingredient, since the text is accompanied by illustrations which interact with the narration. Illustrations, of course, are tricky to “quote,” but a promotional video for The Inevitable June offers a representative sample of Schofield’s style.
Human figures have a sinuosity similar to characters in Jules Feiffer’s cartoons, while the other artwork shows a fascination for density (several pages are black or almost black). This is most visually arresting in a “fishing” sequence following the entry for June 18, which is impossible to quote here and must be seen in its entirety. The entries for the preceding days, however, give a sense of the author’s method:
“June 16. This morning the election results are in. I’m the new mayor of the black box. Wake me up at noon when my shadow arrives wearing a papoose shaped like my skull.
June 17. Even my books swam away into the night. Now I find myself low against a wet surface, trying to fuck new ones into existence.”
The image of the “black box” has become a touchstone of our times, ranging from the mystery and sensational reporting attached to the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to Jennifer Egan’s 2012 short story “Black Box,” which first appeared on Twitter in a stunt sponsored by The New Yorker, in which a secret agent’s body records information and serves as a black box for the surveillance state. In The Inevitable June, an airplane falls from the sky, and the narrator at one point appears to be beneath the ocean, but the black box in question is likely the one on his head. It records a myriad of experiences which will replace the books that “swam away into the night;” it depicts the process of “trying to fuck new ones into existence.” Ostensibly one of the results of his situation is the very book we hold in our hands, The Inevitable June.
Although a few of the entries flirt too much with whimsy for my taste (e.g., “I am simply the frost-bitten love child of Joseph Stalin”), Schofield generally succeeds in creating a highly original imagined world that includes the reader, who is sometimes addressed directly, for instance on June 19:
“When they write our lives down in a thousand years, how long will this chapter be?
This little bit here where we crawled on top of each other and buried our front teeth in one another’s cheeks?”
Schofield’s telling has an apocalyptic flavor, but it is a congenial apocalypse. It is not preachy and evinces a general indifference to right-thinking poses. Frequently books about doom become predictable in their dystopian bubbles and have the unfortunate effect of making the end of the world boring. This is not the case of The Inevitable June. It is consistently entertaining and will cause the needle of your weirdometer to twitch.
—Charles Holdefer, author of Back in the Game (2012).