Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews The Burning Person by Bob Schofield. (2fast2house)
Bob Schofield has written a breathtaking poetic fairytale. The Burning Person is about creation and growing pains and relationships and any number of interpretations, if the reader chooses to follow the threads presented. If someone wanted to, they could put the hero cap onto any character and find something meaningful in the text. Because of this, the book has high reread value.
When I read it, I chose to take the story as it came. There were moments when I wanted to let my mind wander and connect dots, but I resisted the urge because Schofield’s handle on imagery is so precise that it’s a joy to read it simply. Reading his work at a surface level is like staring at a Dali painting. Take in the beauty first before you start analyzing the rest. I didn’t want my thought process to get in the way of reading The Burning Man in its purest form.
The novella is set in some unnamed woods after a couple decides to leave the big city. This sounds more conventional than it actually is. First, the woman “was part blackbird” and the man “worked as an executioner for City Hall.” The reason they choose to leave the big city is because “one day the man’s hood cracked, and he had a breakdown in a supermarket.” Since he had a crack in his hood “dreams slipped through…[and] mixed with his waking life.” I’ve pared these sentences down from Schofield’s original sentences, but not by much. He is giving us this surrealist story in sparse, concise sentences that elicit vivid imagery.
Once they get to the woods and set up a new life in a cabin by the lake, they begin watching fireworks over the water. In the beginning, they think the fireworks are beautiful and entertaining, but it’s not long before we realize the fireworks are burning people falling from the sky. This is how this world works. Early on, one burning person rejects becoming part of a mountain that is made up of all the other burning people, and crawls out of the water onto the land. The burning person finds the man and the woman and is taken in even though everything they touch bursts into flames.
At this point in the story we watch as each of the three characters have a contradiction within themselves. They begin to want things for themselves that they cannot have, and the discord in wanting versus getting disrupts their lives. With the addition of the burning person, readers will be able to pick at the text and figure out the analogies in the story—but like I said before, as soon as the analysis starts the simple beauty of The Burning Person is lost.
I will go back to this slim book and let my mind go wild. Hell, for this one I’ll probably have to pull out a corkboard and red twine to connect as many dots as possible. I want to see how many possible avenues and interpretations there are hidden within, but right now I’m happy with the obscure images floating around in my head. I’m happy with the story of these people doing their best to make a difference, if only in their own lives. I’m happy looking at the beautiful picture Schofield has been able to conjure with words. The mental overhaul can come later.