Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book review: Light Boxes

Posted By on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 3:55 PM

There is a largely underrated part of the world of fiction devoted to the supernatural that's not fantasy. Really the closest I've gotten is Friedrich Dürrenmatt (a bit of the The Visit) and Max Frisch's Biedermann und die Brandstifter (a wonderful fable about a John Doe who is persuaded by arsonists to burn his house down).

It's with that background I came upon Shane Jones' novella Light Boxes, which came out in Penguin paperback this month.

In it, a town battles against an ongoing February. The snow, the chill, the soul-deadening clouds that envelop the landscape — they're all the evil work of a deity called February. To combat the omnipresent depression, the townsfolk dream of June and July and drink mint tea and rub mint leaves on their bodies. They draw hot air balloons and kites on their cupboards.

But when children start disappearing, the town mobilizes for war, following the lead of the tale's main character, Thaddeus, and a resistance group, "the Solution," whose members wear bird masks.

Jones writes with a pleasing lack of flair, letting the images speak for themselves. The effect is calculated and controlled, and in this story, helps ground the reader. And it's not to be mistaken for a lack of drama — Light Boxes hits a frenetic stride at the very end.

The pace suits the mood of the characters. In the beginning, the creepiness and dreaminess of their situation make for a meditative tone. Take for example, a group of children Thaddeus encounters in the woods near the beginning of the book: "Thaddeus asks the children twisting the heads of owls if they have seen a small girl named Bianca in yellow pajamas. The three children sit against an oak tree with their legs stretched out, snow as a blanket to their waists."

At the end, the story takes a mythological turn, like an origin story. Here, a sun is formed by a ball of paper with "July" written on it.

This book can be a lot to accept up front. Readers enter into the action abruptly, and Beloved-like, troll through an ever-more-mysterious plot. It had to grow on me before I started truly enjoying it. Due to the adjustment period that comprised my first impression, Light Boxes is one of those highly creative and beautifully strange books I like best in retrospect.

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