Review: Light Boxes by Shane Jones
Posted on May 24, 2010
by Adam Burgess
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Shane Jones’s Light Boxes: A Novel is a fantastical tale of a small town struggling to survive through a perpetual winter. The month is February, and is always February. Those of us Americans & Canadians who have lived through Midwest or East Coast Februaries can immediately recognize the oppression which this last and most brutal winter month brings. Creativity and inspiration are sucked up as children are still forced to remain indoors after two or three long months of bitter cold, snow, sleet, ice, and winds. The mental exhaustion and physical frustration that comes from lack of sunlight, causing “cabin fever” has brought these townspeople to their limit, and after the powerful being, February (who is both an active character(s) and the time period described) bans all forms of flight, for everyone and everything, the townspeople are moved to fight.
Shane Jones’s Light Boxes has been criticized by some viewers as being a bit nonsensical and unresolved; what these critics miss, apparently, is the entire point of the novel. This is a phantasmagorical romp through the best of lyrical whimsy-noir (yes, I made that up). What I mean is, Jones brings us, with this, his first novel, on an adult fairy tale, the likes of which I can only recall in the works of Lewis Carroll and the Brothers Grimm. The author also takes risks with the composition; as he brings his readers to the creative outer-reaches with his bizarre, dreamlike story, so does he push the boundaries of prose construction by alternating font types & sizes, as well as words-per-page (some filled top to bottom, others just one sentence splashed in the middle of a blank whiteness). All of these elements, as well as the themes themselves: family, home, depression, loss, sadness, and creative-thinking make the novel bittersweet in its playfulness (because the ambiguous ending leaves it up to the reader, really, to determine whether New Town truly answers the prayers of the villagers or not). I also find the idea of a self-conscience deity, an omnipotent being with self-doubt, quite intriguing. The two “powers”, February and The Girl Who Smelled of Honey and Smoke, seem to represent two sides of the same supernatural coin; one compassionate and warm, the other cold and distant. These powers express their commands, their wishes, through writing, none of which ever seems to turn out quite the way it had been planned. Careful readers and experienced writers are likely to catch the meaning here, and be delighted by it (as I was).
There really is not much to put in this category. I could say that the novel is too short, but that is not really an accurate criticism, as the novel is exactly as long as it needs to be (though I could have happily gone along with more of the story). I suppose there are two things which I did take issue with, one being a personal preference and the other a question about the story I find could have been more flushed out. In regards to the personal preference complaint, I mean the prose & style. While I applaud authors for being bold and creative in their formatting, I always tend to find these seemingly random, over-the-top text changes a bit distracting. Now, to qualify my own argument, I have to state that this is clearly a dreamscape novel, which should not be bound to conventional rules and, as such, I understand the reasoning (sort of) behind these choices. Still, for me personally, I could do without it. Now, the item in the storyline I wish had been a bit more established was the relationship between “The Builder and the Housewife” and “The Creator, February, and The Girl Who Smelled of Honey and Smoke.” We learn that the Creator, called February, gives The Builder and his wife the same names as the people have given the Creator and his counterpart, which leads me to believe that “The Creator,” who is represented as two beings, male and female, is actually one. Still, what is the relationship between these three (or four) people? It seems almost religious in nature, sub-textually something is going on, but it eludes me.
Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.0
Quite obviously, I am generally enamored with this short, dark fantasy. While reading, I immediately began to picture the story in my mind, as I would watch it if it were a film and, if rumors are true, there may indeed be a movie in the works; if so, I believe that, done right, it will be absolutely brilliant. The imagery alone is enough to create a stunningly visual film, but the odd storyline and moving emotional moments will create, I think, something along the lines of a “Waking Life” or “Coraline.” Possible movie aside, though, I found the novel to be touching, both sad and jubilant, with hints of true personal sorrow and struggle on many levels (religious, social, and familial). This particular story and its form are probably not for everyone, but I would certainly recommend it to my more artistic and ambitious readers.
Published by Penguin, 2010
Edition: 1st Paperback Ed.
Source: Owned Copy