Light Boxes

The inhabitants of a town wage war against February itself in an attempt to regain lost seasons, children, and dreams. This was all I knew about Light Boxes when I purchased it. I believe I'd seen it listed in some trusted source somewhere, perhaps noting Shane Jones as an interesting new voice in fiction. That, combined with the lovely cover, was enough to intrigue me so that it made its way in to my shopping cart if not in to my purse for an immediate perusal. I bought it and it sat in a stack of other books, so placed to remind me that I wanted to read each and every one of them "next" but I didn't pick it up until April -- perhaps I should have read it during February itself for a better sense of scene, but Jones conjures up the grueling month quite clearly (even for those of us who enjoy winter, it becomes bleak in its unending state). Do I call it poetry? Free verse? Surreal fairy tale that bleeds in to a horror story? A melding of fiction and poetic conjuration of imagery? An attempt to explain via metafiction the experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder? Well whatever it is, and it may be all those things combined, it's not your usual narrative, even when the story concerns a month made both flesh and eternal. Light Boxes is sad and thoughtful and, despite the ongoing nature of February, surprisingly brief in its tale.

Those who have grown up in oppressive winters will indubitably find a kindred spirit in Shane Jones, who envisions the horror of all horrors to be an endless February of ice, snow, and bitter wind. In this town, flight has been outlawed and so, earth-bound, the inhabitants cannot do anything but kindle within their breasts a revolution against February and hope that the sparks are not blown out before something takes hold. Layered worlds provide a scene that feels like an MC Escher drawing, opening holes in the floor that turn out to be gaping wounds in the sky, and children stolen from their beds tunnel underground to provide scraps of messages that convey hopes and war plans. I know of no clear way to describe this novel beyond these swirling images that dance like snowflakes. Yes, there is a story involving a father who must soldier to lead the war against February on after his daughter disappears and his wife dies in her grief. Perhaps it's best to approach this novel as a long free-verse poem, or, like Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, short observations that are tied together by theme and a strange, twisting narrative. In the end, it's not really that "main" narrative that stuck with me so much as the amazing details or vivid descriptions. Did I mention flight was banned? Think on this one idea for a moment... the concept of individuals burning and destroying anything that might rise above, like balloons or even birds... the concealment of treasured items... the painting of kites on a child's arms with the knowledge she will always have to wear sleeves to be safe, but at least she will never forget. The imagery is haunting and while the "story" might not be something that provides a sense of satisfaction, it does not fail in provoking wonder.

The narrative hinges on the experience of February as lingering and oppressively endless. Perhaps it's because I do not experience Seasonal Affective Disorder and actually take great delight in winter but the brevity of the book that I mentioned earlier extends beyond page count. Despite the knowledge that it must be so, the eternal February never sunk in for me, like ice melting through one's clothes. Though I also mean that it took me a little more than an hour to read this in its entirety. When I finished, I wasn't quite sure what to think. I still don't quite know what to think, but I am most definitely thinking of it and on it. So much was unexpected and left open. I had not expected the emphasis on layout and design to convey the poetic message. It could arguably be too kitschy to have such reliance but I never even considered that until after the fact. The design helps the scenes in many ways, though at times it was distracting. I also hadn't quite realized there would be such emphasis on vignettes stitched together to provide structure. The through narrative is exceedingly loose in retrospect, even if the reader does feel compelled on while reading, like a traveler lost in a blizzard who spies a light ahead. Perhaps that's the thing, though, I hadn't realized much of anything before I wandered in to Shane Jones's strange world and that might be just the way to go.

I will, however, likely have to sit on this book some time before I can start suggesting it to people in earnest. New York has just come in to bloom after a winter that had many begging for relief (not unlike the town inhabitants of this novel, though New Yorkers failed to come up with active plans to combat the lingering weather) and so to suggest that they read a novel about eternal winter amidst blossoming daffodils and tulips... well, perhaps not. It is most definitely a novel that benefits from a "right place, right time" attitude and to impose it upon a reader in any other situation would not be to anyone's benefit. Still, should you feel yourself in need of surreal experimentational literature at any point (particularly during a snow storm or chilly night), then I would recommend this slim volume. And I would ask that you report back to tell me if you can look at owls in the same way as you did before reading this book.

PS Goodreads fans should get a kick out of the fact that February himself ( http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2224484-february ) thinks this is "a terrible book of lies."

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