The first time I heard about this surreal little gem of a novel was over at Savidge Reads, where Simon gave it a rave review. A visual, violent, unique, magical adult fairy tale? Sounds like Light Boxes is for me, I thought, so I immediately ordered myself a copy. And I’m so glad I did because I adored it.
The blurb on the back of the cover probably describes the plot of better than I can:
“The inhabitants of a closely knit town are experiencing perpetual February, and that means unending cold and darkness. It turns out that a godlike spirit, named February, is punishing the town for flying and bans flight of all kind, including hot air balloons and even children’s kites. It’s February who makes the sun nothing but a faint memory, who blankets the ground with snow, who freezes the rivers and the lakes. As the punishing weather continues, children go missing and adults become nearly catatonic with depression, all but giving up hope. But others find the strength to fight back – and launch a war against February.”
The novel is stitched together by the short accounts of many different characters, a la As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Sometimes a character only gives a sentence on an otherwise blank page, or at most talks for two pages.
The imagery in Light Boxes is absolutely visceral. Jones’ descriptions of the War Effort members in bird masks, or the dead bodies found with snow in their mouths, or the plague of moss that overtakes the town, or the painted on kites snaking up Belinda’s arms before she disappears evoked such clear images in my mind that it was like I was actually watching the story unfold in front of me. I don’t want to give away anything more about it because part of the book’s charm is its mystery, but I can’t recommend it enough.
Apparently Spike Jonze of the film Where the Wild Things Are is currently adapting the book into a movie, which sounds like such a great pairing that I’m already excited about seeing it. Also Jones’ second novel The Failure Six seems to have been released this year. It sounds great, but I’ll have to wait until The Book Depository stocks it, as it’s too expensive to ship to Australia from Fugitive State Press’ website.
“Thaddeus, Bianca and Selah painted balloons everywhere they could. They pulled up floorboards and painted rows of balloons onto the dusty oak. Bianca drew tiny balloons on the bottom of tea-cups. Behind the bathroom mirror, under the kitchen table and on the inside of cabinet walls balloons appeared. And then Selah painted an intricate intertwining of kites on Bianca’s hands and wrists, the tails extending up her forearms and around her shoulders. How long will February last, Bianca asked, stretching her hands out to her mother, who was blowing on her arms. I really have no idea, said Thaddeus, who watched the snow fall outside the kitchen window. Finished, her mother said. You will have to wear long sleeves from now on. But you’ll never forget flight. You can wear beautiful dresses – that’s what you can wear. Bianca studied her arms. The kites were yellow with black tails. The color melted into her skin. A breeze blew over the fresh ink and through her hair.”
“One possibility is to attack with bees, I said. I could send thousands. The stings would force February to peel the clouds away. It’s an idea. It could work. I told this to Caldor Clemens while we sat in a balloon basket staring up at the sky, under where the two holes were rumored to be. The balloon itself rippled, was deflated around us on the snowy plains like a gown. Go ahead and send them, Clemens said. Thaddeus would try it. I tapped my head. A swarm of bees moved up my neck and formed a funnel extending skyward. The bees disappeared through the clouds, and there was a terrible buzzing sound. Then, seconds later, the funnel collapsed and thousands of dead bees rained from the sky and filled the basket. Their little bodies were hard and cold. Clemens stood there staring at me while I shielded myself from the falling, dying, bees. The sadness was overwhelming.”