February is both the affliction and villain in Shane Jones' ephemeral novel Light Boxes, out on local literary rambler Adam Robinson's Publishing Genius imprint. In it, the children of a seemingly permanently winter-strewn small town are being abducted and believed dead. Memories of the joys of summery times--colorful flowers and hot-air balloons--are the blankets the townsfolk wrap themselves to warm themselves. Bianca, the daughter of Thaddeus and Selah, is one of those abductees, and her disappearance wreaks havoc on the couple.
No part of Jones' story is so plainly told, though, as his terse and tersely written chapters shift narrators, perspectives, tones, each offering a different point of view on the narrative puzzle taking place in the head, but no one part a key piece that suggests what the larger picture may eventually be. Instead, Jones offers scant glimpses: a group called the Solution whose members don birds' masks, a recipe for mint soup, a suspicion that a self-isolating figure named February is behind both the snow and the kidnappings, a girl who smells of honey and smoke, a list of authors who created fantasy worlds to try and cure bouts of sadness, a sense that the story itself is one of those instances where an author's characters are rebelling against their creator.
In the end, though, Light Boxes becomes less a literary puzzle and more a disarmingly moving story. Key to that effect is Jones' audacious sincerity: His story is intimate and his style almost narrative sotto voce. He favors simple sentences that hew to what feels like a finite vocabulary and set of expressions and ideas. Words, phrases, and imagery are repeated. It's distracting at first, reading like a clumsy effort to be experimental, but quickly you fall into the rhythm of Jones' logic, and his sentences begin to feel like the set recurring scenes and images in an impressionistic movie that create an alternate universe using quotidian pieces of reality. And this very slightness is what gives the Light Boxes its overpowering weight. By the end, Jones' short, gauzy sentences become determined, seemingly insignificant water drops eventually sanding granite smooth.