Light Boxes

light boxesThe Short Version: An eternal February has settled over a small town – flight has been forgotten, children are disappearing, and the snow keeps on falling.  Members of the town wage war against the eternal February but eventually it takes the courage of one man to bring warmth back to the world.

The Review: I really wanted to like this book.  It seemed like such a wonderful concept – because who isn’t affected, in one way or another, by the seemingly eternal bleakness of February – and the cover made me think this would be something truly original and special.  Sadly, it is more pretentious than precocious.

Right away, you have to decide what kind of reader you are.  If you don’t like differing fonts and font sizes, then stay far away from this.  The author writes in a rather Sarah Ruhl-ian/Charles Mee-ian style – there is a sense of magical movement to the writing, although it seems (at times) far more forced than their plays ever seemed.  There are pages with just a word, a sentence, a thought.  Bold names at the tops of pages denote who is narrating the next short burst.  Characters appear and disappear (but don’t, I don’t think, die) without much of a care.  Lists – that old trope – appear a few times.  Balloons and kites and whimsical ideas of flying seem to be important to the characters but the author never quite commits to them.

There is a fascination, it seems, with the writing of the story moreso than the actual story.  A February that stretches on for years is a fertile playground for the imagination – but Jones doesn’t even follow the rules that we all know February abides by.  Perhaps the most horrifying scene in the book – next to, perhaps, the description of a hanged man – comes when February introduces moss to the town.  This moss quickly takes over everything and brutally kills the horses in a scene of unbelievable sadness and even terror.  But moss?  In February?  Really?  Even this February, which looks to be (surprisingly) mild, won’t see moss like that.

As many of the major reviews of this book pointed out, there’s a terrible and clumsy revelation that February is SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

essentially an author trying to impress his lady.  She’s so disappointed that his story turned out bleak because she wanted to give the people a happy ending.  Which she eventually does after Thaddeus kills February.

…if you read that last 2.5 sentence paragraph and said “….what?” then we’re in the same boat.  There’s just something so anti-climactic about that ending.  Instead of a war against a malevolent February that is truly the embodiment of the season, it turns out characters are just rebelling against their author.  It all gets rather meta but unfortunately it doesn’t ever seem convincingly so – it just seems… well… lame.

I wanted more weight to the whole thing.  The decision to allow this to be a fable, with fable-like lightness, means that none of the really interesting developments or characters ever get to do anything.  The Solution, with their top hats and beak masks (see: the cover) seemed like such cool concepts – but instead of being something worthy of reading right after the Council of Days in The Man Who Was Thursday, they’re just thrown into the pot along with so many other concepts, none of them getting the attention they really deserve.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.  There are some really beautiful moments in this book and the fact that it is a novella/fable and not a novel redeems it from the doldrums.  However, there’s just not enough to it to make it really any good.  The concept is such a great one and there was so much that could’ve been done… and instead, Jones relied on a tired plot device that was confusing and unnecessary and makes the entire conflict seem ridiculous.  This is the case of, like Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3, finishing a story and immediately knowing what could be trimmed/changed to make it a great one.  Sadly, you know that you can’t change it and that it exists, in this format, to forever be just mediocre.


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