My Elegant Barnyard tells the tale of Bernard Steele, a restless twenty one year old, who, despite being in love with life, cannot help but notice a disenchantment growing within himself. The world he beholds around him is one of superficial, shallow commercialism, and it appalls him, because it conflicts with the America he grew up believing in, an image which he still carries with him, refusing to relinquish. Having grown up on a farm in a small town in Oregon, Bernard was raised to believe that integrity and masculinity were virtues, that with a strong back and good work ethic, a man could make something of himself. His childhood is shrouded in memories of fourth of July parades and picnics, of high school football games and lazy drives through the mountains above his town. His adolescence was filled with freedom and idealism, with faith in God, his neighbors, and in his country. However, times have changed, and Bernard now finds himself in a time when its no longer cool to believe in America. Bernard realizes that his generation is something that he wants nothing to do with. All around him he sees turtleneck wearing pseudo-intellectuals and cyber space cafes. He sees cell phones and portable pocket internets, and it all seems so strange and wrong to him. The thought of becoming one of them frightens him, and he vows to pursue another way.
This theme, of Bernard searching for his America, sets the stage for the entire book, and yet it is only one of the many themes which pervade the novel. Another dilemma which haunts Bernard throughout the course of the book is his quest to discover himself. Bernard, being twenty one years old, finds himself in that awkward stage where he is no longer a boy and yet is not ready to become an adult. Desire and morality battle each other inside his heart as he strives to unearth the man inside himself.
Beneath all of this, there is also the tale of the young mans relentless quest to make it as a writer. Having turned his back on college and institutionalized learning, Bernard now faces the fear of becoming common, of slipping into a minimum wage lethargy and disappearing forever. Determined to make his voice heard, longing to carve out an identity in the seemingly indifferent world, Bernard embarks upon the daunting task of writing the great American novel.
And yet there is more. There is also an adventurous side to Bernard, a hungry, lusting, wild side, that is not only willing to try everything on his search for enlightenment, but is insistent upon it. Bernard shamelessly pulls the reader into his world of sexual encounters, drug experimentation, and overall web of debauchery, but he does so in such an innocent, honest, straightforward fashion, that the reader can not help but feel compassion for him, even if his actions are sometimes disgraceful. Through out his adventures, Bernard wanders searchingly through some dark and unpleasant territory, but this only adds depth to his character, and thereby makes him more real, more likable.
All of these themes, as crucial as they are to the book, are only underlying plots which supply a foundation for the surface story to unfold. On the exterior My Elegant Barnyard is an adventure story, a tale of a young man traveling from Maui to his small home town in Oregon. Bernard flies, wanders, and hitch-hikes his way home, leading the reader from seedy bars in L.A to the cabs of strange and lonely truck drivers. From the broken down diners along the highways of California to the forests of the Pacific northwest. Through Bernards eyes, the reader comes to view an America which is seldom seen these days. An America of vast beauty and wild terrain, of rolling hills and endless freeways, of truck-stops at dawn and psychedelic topless bars.
Will Bernard make it home to Oregon, and what awaits him there if he does? Will he discover the path to manhood, or will his own identity always remain a mystery to him? Will he receive enlig