BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Shane Jones
Filed Under: Literary
In Jones’s short novel, February became a seemingly endless span of time, a punishment–for some unspecified reason–for flight: kites, ballooning, etc. A small town is held hostage by February, who is also a deity of sorts. And as women and children are kidnapped and killed by February, the townspeople decide to stand up against the perpetual winter.
I can’t really discuss this book without giving away a conceit that doesn’t become apparent until later in that book. Basically, if the description is intriguing, you will like this book; I considered labelling it a Great Read. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but since what follows may be a surprise to some, I guess I should issue a spoiler warning: if you want to go into this book completely fresh, stop reading this review now and just read it (it’s good).
This book does a lot of things in a very few pages. Namely, it writes about a unique world without getting all that in depth. We don’t know much about the town or its inhabitants, just enough. We learn of Thaddeus and his daughter, Bianca, who is kidnapped by February and the “girl who smells of honey and smoke.” Other children have gone missing too. We know of the townsfolk who wear bird masks, a faceless resistance of sorts. We know that sometimes animals can do February’s bidding and sometimes they, or townsfolk, can be found mutilated and consumed by ants. We know that February’s tyranny is retribution for flight, but we don’t know why. Nothing is really solid–it’s as if the author hadn’t really figured things out, and altered things as he went along. And that turns out to be just the case, in a way.
This book does something that normally turns me off immediately: it utilizes the author as a character with agency in the fiction. Halfway or so through the book, we learn that Febrary is in fact an unshaven, struggling author living in his parents’ basement. He has two holes in the floor of his office, with which he can access the world of his own fiction. He writes truths on paper and sends them to the world below. As the inhabitants of the town strive to overcome the hardships he puts them through, he too struggles. February doesn’t want to hurt the people of Thaddeus’s town, he’s just written himself into a corner.
All this is put together quite nicely. We get the perspective of the town, where Thaddeus and the townsfolk plan an attack on February. We get the perspective of the writer’s room, where his girlfriend (she who smells of honey and smoke) relates their real world existence and finds pity in the townsfolk of his fiction. The real world ends up effecting a lot of influence on the physical world, and on the emotional thematics of the novel.
As I’ve said, this meta approach to novels is one I don’t often care for. But this book was different. In part, February is perhaps the most pathetic and least sympathetic character in the book. He is not exerting his will over his creations; his own inadequacy at his craft is creating pain and misery that he cannot reign in, let alone fix. In addition, Shane Jones, the real author, is actually quite remarkable. Unlike February’s flawed fiction, this actual book is excellently crafted. It is written from varying perspectives, so many that I lost count. Sometimes chapters take interesting routes with formatting, syntax, punctuation, typesetting, etc. It is playful and imaginative and supremely creative, yet also hits on the colder emotions such as loss and despair quite poignantly. Most important, he uses language well:
We have lost the tips of our fingers and our toes are black inside our boots. Our beards are brittle with ice, our skin hard and red and cold.
Like this quote, the book is short and somewhat sparse but also specific and beautiful. This is an extremely good book, and doubly impressive as it is a debut novel. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick literary diversion, and I will definitely be giving Jones’s second book a read, whenever that may be available.
Similar Reads: The New York Trilogy (Auster), The Book of Lost Things (Connolly), The Magicians (Grossman)