In his debut novel, Light Boxes, Shane Jones shares his personal nightmare of never-ending winter. Jones suffers from seasonal depression, and while his depiction of a town where February lasts all year benefits from his real feelings of dread, its greatest weakness is going too far into autobiography.
Jones’ fable follows the reactions of a small group of people waiting for a spring that will never come. Their home has been cursed by a cruel, fickle godlike being named February, who’s trapped them under endless cloudy skies and snow, and outlawed flight of all sorts, from kites and hot-air balloons to birds. While some townspeople give in to utter despair, others pledge to fight back and begin a war effort against February by doing everything from pretending it’s summer to desperately trying to warm the land.
The chronicle of their attempts and the results mix lighthearted sweetness and horror. The townspeople express a catching childlike joy in their small victories, but their defeats are devastating. One of the most disturbing passages describes the resistance futilely trying to save their horses after the animals begin growing a devouring mold on their skin. The characters can’t let go of the memory, making it even more haunting.
Light Boxes is only 145 pages long, and even for that length, it’s a short read. Some pages feature only one line, and others are a list of the same line over and over, in different fonts. The emphasis is on poetry and style rather than linear storytelling. Chapters are narrated by a laundry list of characters, some only named by the color of bird-mask they wear. Others chapters are notes written by February himself. These are some of the most poignant, showing the depths of self-loathing and depression that plague the antagonist. He wants to be a good person, but he makes terrible things happen.
Unfortunately, February goes from sympathetic to just pathetic once Jones reveals his true nature. The twist changes the nature of the book and its relationship to the author for the worse. For all the beautiful setup, his resolution is lacking in subtlety or originality.