Light Boxes, by Shane Jones

Two words here: delightfully quirky. This really isthe only way to describe the magical, hallucinogenic and psychedelic fairy-tale that isLight Boxes, Shane Jones’ short debut novel, originally published through Baltimore’s Publishing-Genius Press in an edition of 500, and now issued by Hamish Hamilton, as well as being optioned for film by director Spike Jonze (‘Where the Wild Things Are’). To be fair, it stretches the definition of what is usually considered a novel – it’s more along the lines of an experimental story told in a series of prose poems. For a start, it’s a small book, in both size and page count (167 pages), consists of a number of extremely short, sharp ‘chapters’ (the longest being just under five pages but most often shorter, with each written from the point of view of one of the story’s characters or the omnipresent narrator), with some ‘chapters’ being just numbered lists and with yet others being simply a single sentence on a page. In addition, fonts and letter-sizes are expressively played with as well, helping to tell the story as well as creating an unsettling edginess to what is already a strange, surreal tale.

February is holding the inhabitants of a town hostage to snow, cold and grey skies, and has decreed that all flight, of whatever kind (even that of birds), must cease completely. To make matters worse for them, he has been kidnapping the children of the town. Thaddeus and Selah are the parents of Bianca, whose own kidnap prompts her father, in alliance with The Solution (a group of bird-masked and top-hatted balloonists dedicated to restoring flight), the Professor (the inventor of the light boxes of the title), Caldor Clemens (a seven foot giant), the townspeople and the buried children to wage war against their icy oppressor, because slowly, surely, February’s cold is killing the townspeople and sapping them of happiness. Simply put, they’re metaphorically fighting for their very existences and physically for the return of the other, warmer seasons. And that is it, in a nutshell.

Many of the classic elements of the fairytale abound here: a surreal location that exists in some nameless ‘otherwhere’, missing children, strange occurrences, bizarre larger-than-life technicolour characters and a classic bogeyman figure, but delineated with Jones’ playfully quirky imagination. Above all, danger and an ever-present but nameless threat bubble just below the surface, waiting to break through and overwhelm. Additionally, there are deeper truths that resonate strongly with both history and human nature, elements that we can all relate to in one way or another. It’s these deeper elements that drive the story along, chiming with a primal need to see balance restored, satisfaction achieved and things put back in their proper place.

Quite simply Jones writes beautifully. His employment of imagery is startling, painting bright pictures of a strangely beguiling, yet dangerously threatening, land, a place that’s an unnervingly disturbing mixture of the fantastical and the real. His language is poetic, inventive, and dreamlike. At times his writing is elusive, like something seen vaguely at the edges of a mist, and at others as substantial as the characters themselves. The narrative is often disorientating, just like dreams are apt to be, with shifting perspectives which weave dizzily between viewpoints, ultimately leading us to question even an imaginary world. Additionally, Jones has an uncanny knack of hiding layers of meaning and complexity beneath a charming, seemingly superficial, simplicity. And this is where the power of his writing originates: that it can be read on many different levels, and can be enjoyed fully whichever one you happen to land on.

Jones has since published another book, The Failure Six, through a small-press publisher, Fugue State Press of New York and which Wikipedia describes as ‘a modern fable set in a society that has come to favour written messages over talking’. If Light Boxes is anything to go by, then this one, too, will summarily make the leap to the mainstream. Again, if the quality is consistent across the two books, then I predict that it won’t be long before the name of Shane Jones graces the bookshelves of discerning readers across the globe.

The original review can be found here.

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2 Responses to “Light Boxes, by Shane Jones”

  1. I must obtain and read this book…..

  2. You certainly won’t be disappointed…

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