I haven't read much in the horror genre, but what little I have read didn't provide me with feelings of terror as one might expect, but feelings of uncertainty and unease. Most readers wouldn't think of David S. Atkinson's Bones Buried in the Dirt as horror, and it's not, but it certainly left me with these same feelings. Given its subject of childhood, this in itself is unsettling.
I realize this review is about Atkinson's novel, but I'm going to make it about me for the moment. You see, I can't speak for everyone else and what their childhood was like, but I can speak for mine. At least what I remember of it. And here's what I remember: I remember an imagination carrying me through fields and trees, branches that served as swords and dandelion blooms that were medicine; I remember special trips to the store with my mom, family vacations to the theme park, and cheese and crackers waiting for me when I got home; I recall board games and slide shows, parks and family movies. Is this a fair portrayal of my childhood? Absolutely not. It ignores all the stuff I've blocked out. All the insecurities and embarrassments that blanketed much of my adolescence. I don't know if this is everyone's childhood experience, but I have heard the same sentiment from others. Some things are best left buried beneath the fluff of bedtime stories and good morning hugs.
But like the bones in Atkinson's title story, some things cannot remain buried forever. Atkinson hasn't picked out a few bones from childhood memory, he's excavated the whole bloody cemetery. He's laid them out, all those childhood idiosyncrasies that only an astute observer or person ready to face their past could see. Yes, those fluffy memories are there, floating around the atmosphere of Atkinson's world where imagination resides, but beneath them is the world many of Bones...'s readers would call “the truth”—that is, the way an adult would perceive it.
Bones Buried in the Dirt is told entirely in the voice of young Peter. This is a bold move for Atkinson, but it is the only right one for telling this story. That said, it's not an easy choice. Peter's voice is jarring, especially at first. And because we see the world only through Peter's eyes, it's not possible to see the bigger world that rests somewhere outside of the street he lives on. When the world is filtered through the eyes of a child, you can be guaranteed that all your questions will not be answered, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the experience. And Atkinson provides an experience that is eerily familiar, yet unlike anything you've read before.
If you're like me and you've buried much of your childhood, Bones Buried in the Dirt will force you to confront some of your greatest fears. You may shake your head, amazed that you were ever so impressionistic, but you'll probably also shake in fear when Peter gets called to the principal's office. This is David's story. And it's Peter's story. But it's also mine. Bones... brings to mind that oft-quoted biblical passage, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” What this passage neglects to mention is that while those childish things have been “put away” they are still a part of us. “Put away”—it sounds so easy, doesn't it? Like childhood is just tucked gingerly into a box and buried. No matter how deep we bury those insecurities though, there is always the threat they will resurface and haunt us. Thumbs up David Atkinson for trumping the Bible, forcing me to face my past, and fess up to my mistakes. “Joy,” I'm sorry.