Narwhal Party

Light Boxes by Shane Jones
06/21/2010, 10:06 am
Filed under: Books, Movies, Music | Tags: , , , ,

Light Boxes is a fairy tale, I suppose. It’s magical realism, it’s post-modern. It’s strange and haunting, and one page features a list that includes “MySpace” and “Lite-Brite” and “Charles Schluz.” Some words are printed extra-large, some are printed extra-small. There are several lists and several narrators. Some pages barely have anything printed on them at all.

And all of this seems to stack up against Shane Jones in his debut novel, but he manages to pull it off with whimsy, grace, and brevity. Much of the book reads like a prose poem or a children’s story, yet Jones taps into the world of sadness and melancholy with precision and grace. The story centers on a small town that has been haunted by February for hundreds of days. The people have all but forgotten other seasons. February, personified, has outlawed flying things—birds walk and balloons (a central image) are grounded. A secret society, shrouded in bird masks, calls itself the Solution and plans on defeating February. They adopt the protagonist, Thaddeus, who eventually loses his wife and daughter to February, and later his own sanity. There’s a giant woodsman with a foul mouth. There are priests with axes. There’s a professor.

Near the end, February is presented as simply a sad, misled romantic. His wife is fed up with his dirty t-shirts and unkempt beard, his lack of transportation and his lack of direction. It would not have been shocking or out of place if Jones had mentioned his record collection and his predilection for lackadaisical veganism. Later, a note found in his pocket reads, “I wanted to write you a story about magic…It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.” These revelations place February as a tragic figure whose good intentions have gone dreadfully awry, which is a fresh turn in this fairy tale that seems perfect for hipsters and post-hipsters, alike.

Again, all this seems a bit much, and you’d expect Light Boxes to crumble under its own weight, but Jones is skilled enough to pull it off. It’s primed for dissection and will probably grow in popularity because Spike Jonze has purchased the film rights. Yes, that Spike Jonze. And it’s set up well—lines like “I vomit ice cubes,” images like bodies being hung inside tree trunks and filled with snow, ghosts, children living underground, and holes in the sky, are all evocative and affective. Who else but Spike Jonze (if not Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson) could adapt this? It seems tailor made for the current detached generation, struggling to leave childhood behind. There’s no word on when the film adaptation will be produced or released, but it would be a fine follow-up, thematically, to Where The Wild Things Are, his recent short film about robots in love (I’m Here), and his bafflingly odd Kanye West video (ten minutes that culminate with Kanye spewing flower petals and removing a tiny little monster from his torso). So, there’s that.

Read a much more thorough and better-written review of Light Boxes at Quarterly Conversation.

Watch the trailer for Spike Jonze’s I’m Here, or the film in its entirety at the official site:

Buy I’m Here, with a book of photos, interviews, ect, the film on DVD, and an original soundtrack on CD, all bundled up together by the fine folks at McSweeney’s.

Watch the Jonze-directed Kanye West clip here. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you stick around ’til the end.