Who has the time to sit down with a good book when balancing a day job and a freelance career? Moreover, who has the time to sit down and comb through 200-plus page novels. This writer certainly doesn’t. Thankfully, two new novellas have grabbed my attention and been well worth the time spent.
Released in paperback on June 22, Jean-Christophe Valtat’s 03 marks the English-language debut of the much-celebrated Parisian writer. His 96-page offering, out now on Farrar, Straus and Giroux; is one long paragraph and documents the inner ruminations of a disaffected French teenager’s attraction to a “slightly retarded,” classmate. Equal parts ornate and consuming, the unnamed teenager feels scorned and unappreciated by his hum-drum life in Montepelurilleux and finds a kinship in the girl almost immediately. Though they never speak or meet, his fascination with her induces daydreams and finds him rattling off lyrics to Joy Division and The Cure, and finding solace in Flowers for Algernon. The narrator’s hyper-literate and dizzying psyche reveals his insecurities, fears, sexual desires and recollections on an awkward and uncomfortable youth. Both precocious and passionate, wistful and wanton, the unnamed narrator has a vitality and candor all his own. When he fusses over the ’smeary stigmata of idiocy,’ or the ‘ineluctable similarities,’ it reads more like Proust and less like a young teen in love. Therein lies the power and potency of Valtat’s richly layered text. One can only hope, Farrar Straus and Giroux releases another English-language translation of his work soon. Talent this good should not go undiscovered.
Equally as talented is rising newcomer Shane Jones, whose debut novel Light Boxes, was released in paperback on May 25 by Penguin. As much a fable as it a taut and psychological narrative, this gnomic and off-kilter war novella details the plight of an unnamed New England town battling to free itself from a brutal February. The month has indeed overstayed its welcome and plagued the town for hundreds of days. A ban against kites and balloons only helps fuel the citizens’ anger. When the local children start to go missing, a defiant resident named Thaddeus Lowe coaxes his wife to join forces with a group of outlaws known as The Solution. Former balloonists, now donning bird masks and top hats, the Solution espouse rebellion and help the townspeople combat the mysteries that surround them. As the novel unravels, February is revealed to be a person, a season and a metaphor. And so it is that Jones’ novel unfurls. Laden with vivid detail, Light Boxes is tender, richly absorbing and undeniably inventive. Potent, piercing and powerful, Light Boxes has all the trappings of a new American classic and to quote author Rivka Galchen is, “the kind of novel that makes you reconsider the word perfect.’