I got a Borders gift card for Christmas. It languished on my nightstand for months, nearly suffocating under the dust and books and my fiancee’s hair clips. I had little time for free reading, what with another semester underway, and gave the card little thought. Ironically enough, it was only the announcement of the Borders bankruptcy that reminded me I had it at all. There were no more stores left within reasonable distance by that point, however, so I trucked on over to the Borders website, figuring I needed to cash in before the company disappeared completely.
What does this have to do with Light Boxes? Nothing at all, except that they say anecdotes are good ways to draw readers in and also websites are terrible tools for finding books you might want to read if you don’t already have something in mind. It seriously took me a long time. But then I remember seeing the book somewhere, the first novel by Shane Jones, and thinking I’d like it. I was correct. I did like it.
Light Boxes is a little difficult to explain, though, so bear with me. It’s set in a fictional small town in which the month of February has refused to move on. February is also a character. The residents of the town make war on February by shooting things at the clouds, melting the snow, wearing light boxes on their heads. The war is led by Thaddeus Lowe, but it comes at the dear cost of his wife and daughter. Several other people die. But then come back to life later. That’s about it. It’s a short book.
The novel is much more concerned with style and structure than plot. It’s composed of brief chapters narrated by a host of characters, including February. Jones is also a poet, and he is very clearly toying with the distinction between long-form fiction and poetry. The book medium itself is used in interesting ways, with entire pages sometimes containing only a single sentence or phrase, but it isn’t gratuitous over overly frequent. The lack of grounding environmental details or specificity of location or time gives the book an unanchored feeling, appropriate for this sort of fable-like story.
Good fables, however, have a clarity of purpose, and Light Boxes does not, I’m afraid. I can certainly abide some ambiguity in what I read. However, when the author uses a cheap ending, like reanimating most of the deceased characters and avoiding any true conclusion to the conflict, the lack of clear intention leaves the reader with the impression that the author didn’t know what was really going on to begin with. That said, none of that can take away from the fact that I truly enjoyed reading Light Boxes. It is a quick, engrossing, intriguing fantasy, that sadly just couldn’t quite finish what it began.
An aside worth noting: Light Boxes was originally published by small (small) independent press Publishing Genius based in Baltimore. When Spike Jonze optioned the rights to adapt the book for film, Publishing Genius was able to sell the publishing rights on to one of the Big Books houses, Penguin. Jonze seems like a good fit for the project, but the adaptation option has since been dropped, which means Penguin won’t sell the millions on the back of the film that they’d hoped. Oops. But good for PG and Shane Jones. Get Paid.