Originally published in Baltimore, USA in 2009 with an original print run of 500, it quickly gained notoriety through word of mouth and the underground. Penguin then purchased the rights and republished it under their imprint Hamish Hamilton and that’s how one copy landed in my hands all the way down in Australia.
In Light Boxes, February is punishing the townspeople and it has frozen the season for more than 300 days and counting. The townspeople have suffered through a never ending onslaught of snow and ice. Flight has also been banned and the sky is empty. Theddeus, Selah and their daughter Bianca try to keep their spirits up. Theddeus have drawn balloons on Bianca’s arms to inspire them all that they will one day fly again in their hot air balloons and their kites.
Every night, Selah makes a concoction overpowering with mint to repel February and to keep their family safe. Children have begun to disappear with increasing frequency. Some townspeople, calling themselves The Solution, are waging a war against February. They wear masks of birds as disguises. Theddeus joins in the war effort although their efforts do minimal damage to the all mighty February. One night, Bianca disappears from her bedroom with only the scent of smoke and honey lingering and Selah is overcome with grief. When Theddeus attempts to exact revenge and goes to find February in his house at the edge of the woods, the mystery of February deepens.
This book, while short in length, is difficult to describe. It’s a play, an experiment on the traditional book form and prose but the storytelling is equally as effective. Light Boxes is enchanting, whimsical and rather brutal in some parts. The idea of February (aligned with the Northern Hemisphere seasons) dominating the townsfolk can also connote depression or seasonal mental disorders as suggested by this (one of many) great little list in the novel:
Lists of Artists Who Created Fantasy Worlds to Try and Cure Bouts of Sadness:
1. Italo Calvino
2. Garcia Marquez
3. Jim Henson and Jorge Borges – Labyrinth (s)
4. The creator of Myspace
5. Richard Brautigan
6. J.K. Rowling
7. The inventor of the Children’s toy Lite-Brite
8. D.A. Levy
9. David Foster Wallace
10. Gauguin and the Caribbean
11. Charles Schulz
12. Liam Rector
– p. 98
I’m not sure how accurate this list is but I do know J.K. Rowling did suffer depression.
Light Boxes was a unique, delightful and highly satisfying read not to mention that the cover is gorgeous. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.