Bookshots: 'Crystal Eaters' by Shane Jones
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Shane Jones, author of the novels Light Boxes, The Failure Six, and Daniel Fights a Hurricane, as well as several story collections, chapbooks, and poetry volumes.
Plot in a box:
A small mining village is threatened by the constant expansion of a city on the horizon. No, literally: the city is growing out of the ground and no one knows how or why. Meanwhile, a young girl becomes obsessed with reversing the dwindling crystal count of her sick mother. Once Mom's crystal count hits 0, she'll die.
Invent a new title for this book:
Don't Do Drugs & Similar Myths
Read this if you liked:
One Hundred Years of Solitude but hate long books.
Meet the book's lead(s):
Remy is a young girl who runs around on her hands like a dog; her brother, Pants McDonovan, is a prison inmate/black crystal dealer; Dad is an emotionless tool; Mom is dying; Hundred is a dog.
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
Joey King; Macaulay Culkin (yes, the creepy adult version); Randy Quaid (or any emotionless dad type, who cares); Mary Steenburgen; Benji.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Over the course of the novel, the village and nearby city experience a record heat wave that culminates in basically the sun touching the earth and everyone feeling like their hair is melting, so no, I'll pass. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure this entire world is tweaking...
What was your favorite sentence?
A village myth says the sun will rage war on the earth. This is not a myth. Another village myth says the city will move into the village and crush it, that the city is alive, that it's a creature who eats the small. This too is not a myth. A third village myth says the black crystals are reaching up and pulling on the sun's flames, but no one knows for sure if that's true or not. Could just be a myth.
I used to think that I was stuck with the traumatizing Bookshots, but now it seems like I always get the weird ones. Luckily, Crystal Eaters is a bit of both! There are so many things I could say about this book. For starters, the entire world is based on the idea that everyone is born with 100 crystals inside of them, and as we go through life, our crystal count dwindles. Tying into this concept, the book's pages all count down instead of up, as do the chapter numbers. This has an interesting tonal quality given the content of the book, but it's also incredibly practical, as it means readers don't have to do any math when figuring out how many pages are left. (It's the little things that count.)
With her mother's crystal count getting seriously low, Remy decides to experiment with mythic black crystals, which she thinks can make the crystal count go up again. Of course, these black crystals are the same ones that her brother is dealing to guards in the new prison that the city built to house village dissidents; their effects seem to vary based on user, but they're incredibly addictive. There's also a group of young villagers hellbent on performing a "prison break in reverse," a mysterious pyro setting city building's on fire, a dog with one yellow eye and one black eye, and a malicious sun inching ever closer to the earth.
All of which is to say that this is clearly some kind of allegory. Or allegories, really, as there's so much extra weird stuff going on all the time. Let's see if we can count up a few of the stronger moral/political lessons strewn throughout:
- Addiction is terrible;
- Technology is terrible;
- Urban sprawl/gentrification is terrible;
- Strip mining is terrible(?);
- Global warming is terrible, probably;
- Cancer is terrible;
- Politics is terrible;
- Blind faith in ancient beliefs is terrible;
- Prison is EXTRA terrible;
- Addiction is honestly the most terrible, though.
There's a lot happening, if you couldn't tell. I wasn't joking earlier; it really does remind me a lot of a condensed One Hundred Years of Solitude. There's an isolated village experiencing increasing encroachment from the larger world. There are backwards peoples creating their own logic from myths and hearsay. Everyone is pretty sure that the end times are near. There's a strong fantasy element played off as if it ain't no thing. I think maybe where it struggles is that there's no unifying theme or tone like OHYoS, and the prose obviously isn't as strong. (I say obviously because OHYoS is probably the greatest novel ever written.)
In all honesty, I had no idea what this book was going to be. The early chapters lean heavily towards YA, focusing on Remy's perspective to introduce us to crystals and how this world works. We then move on to this political story of a rural mining village fearing that a nearby city is going to keep expanding until it eventually consumes their land, replete with dissidents and movements and jailed protestors. After that, though, we go hardcore into D.A.R.E. to resist drugs and violence territory, as basically everyone and everything revolves around black crystals. Things get a bit nonsensical and Catch-22-ish for a bit, culminating in a 100-year wind finale, though much condensed.
So I don't know? I think maybe I need to process all of this a bit more. It's definitely the kind of book that I'll remember fondly even if I wasn't super crazy about it while I was in the trenches reading it. And I mean "in the trenches"—this book is all dirt and mud and shit and sun and random flesh wounds. At some point I think Remy loses her feet? But then she's kinda walking around fine? But then someone mentions her feet look bad? But she just walked like several miles and didn't complain or anything? But #drugs.
Honestly, I think this is an interesting book, and it's under 200 pages, so it's easy to get in and out of on a beach day. There's a certain humorous cruelty in reading this book at the beach, actually, considering much of it is concerned with the sun getting closer and closer, hotter and hotter, every single day. It's a bit oppressive, but you'd have the ocean to go jump into and cool off. Remy doesn't even know what the ocean is.
Anyway, don't do drugs, kids.
In lieu of the usual Amazon link, if you're interested in Crystal Eaters, and I think maybe you are, get it directly from the publisher, Two Dollar Radio. They're a great press, the focus of LitReactor's first ever Indie Press Spotlight back in May 2012. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced Shane Jones is probably way smarter than me and you should buy this book.
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