Carefully crafted, precious and a little bit magical, Light Boxes is like a porcelain doll – a child’s toy whose true artistry can be appreciated only by an adult. Some will treasure it, admiring its handiwork. Others will want to smash it. Where you fall on this spectrum depends on your tolerance for characters named Thaddeus, your enjoyment of lovely, surreal imagery – ‘the clouds fell apart like wet paper in their hands’ – and your affinity for filmmaker Spike Jonze, who is adapting Light Boxes for the screen.
The book’s plot begins simply, then quickly waxes eccentric. In an unnamed town, February – which is not just a month, but a deity-like character – is cold, snowy and unending. More devastating, February has banned hot-air balloons, a form of transportation that represents freedom and joy. February also kidnaps children, like Bianca, the daughter of Thaddeus and his wife, Selah. So the pair begin a war on February, employing tactics that include attaching light boxes to their heads to simulate sunshine.
There’s no doubt that Jones can write: his spare, alliterative sentences are flawless and sometimes delightful. But it’s also hard not to be annoyed by how fanciful it all is. Too often this tale of people fighting against a malevolent force suffocates in its concentration of whimsy.