Welcome to my new micro-interview series, which focuses on recent releases that I’ve found noteworthy. Past entries are archived here.
In this series I’m asking writers to respond to the two questions I most frequently ask when I’m teaching a book in the classroom: (1) what is the text doing / how is the text doing it, and (2) with what does the text connect?
These questions arise from my particular approach to reading and critical analysis, which is deeply indebted to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. As they put it, “Literature is an assemblage…a book itself is a little machine…writing has nothing to do with signifying…it has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”
So, without further delay…
I present Shane Jones, whose recent book Crystal Eaters has been described thusly:
“[Jones is] something of a millennial Richard Brautigan. Read this if you want to read a book so visual that it will inspire you to create artwork of your own.”
“Crystal Eaters is full of sentences that jump at you like a pop-up book, painting a world that is at some times painfully real, and at others an exercise in vivid hallucinations. Jones is pushing genres here, not unlike George Saunders or Karen Russell, but using a harsher lens. Crystal Eaters grabs your face and pushes it up against a fantastic, sprawling, impressionistic painting of death and family.”
“A grounded epiphany of the highest order, revealing the stark and majestic grace that is present within the loss each living thing must endure. Page after page, Jones’s exquisitely styled prose drugs the ear like otherworldly music—this pyretic, hallucinatory novel stings with beauty at every turn.”
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
Crystal Eaters blends styles – mainly realism and surrealism – while also incorporating, as a kind of sub-flooring, moods or themes of fairy tale, fantasy, family drama, coming of age tale, domestic blackness, sci-fi, romance, and ‘campy’ action adventure, culminating, hopefully, in a ‘new’ feeling, or vision, where the reader is pushed (the first half of the book) and pulled (the second half of the book) through an original/surreal landscape opening up portals to ‘real’ human emotion and feeling. How this functions without being totally exhausting, annoying, or dull, is solved (again, hopefully) in the structure: short chapters that move between several settings and story lines, thus allowing the reader to ‘catch her breath’ or a kind of ‘mental resetting’ before the next chapter where the story either highlights the surrealism (for example, Remy eating crystals and entering a dream sequence) or stark realism (for example, the prisons scenes with Pants McDonovan). Chapters typically move in a way so the themes can play off each other, keeping the reader interested and off guard, but as the book moves along the realism or ‘reality’ begins to dominate, as if to say that the fantasy (mainly the idea of crystal count and many of the earlier dreamy scenes) has a very real consequences (death) that the family has to eventually deal with in the final chapter where there is no escape into a dream, crystal count, dog-walking, etc, only the family in silence huddled around a dead mother, connecting through physical connection (holding and touching each other, no fantasy).
Having identified your book’s comportment, could you bring it into focus by describing its relationship to other texts? (By “texts” I mean any relatable objects.) Put another way: if we think about a book as a star in a constellation, or a node in a circuit, I’m interested in hearing about the constellation or circuit in which readers might find your book. Put yet another way: if we think about your book as contributing to particular conversations, could you describe those conversations and their other participants?
I thought about this question all morning. I took my son (age two) to a doctor’s appointment this morning where they drew a small vial of blood from his thumb, but I kept thinking of my book as a piece of dog shit covered in glitter. But not just a random piece of dog shit covered in glitter, say, in a backyard, if that’s even possible, but a piece of dog shit preserved and waxed and covered professionally in glitter and placed in MOMA by an artist like Paul McCarthy. I’m not sure this even begins to answer this question, but I’d like Crystal Eaters to be part of a conversation about how surrealism, instead of always being labeled ‘artsy’ or ‘avant garde’ or ”just plain weird’ can connect, or work on a level, with sincerity. Some of my contemporaries are on drastically different sides of the spectrum. Where people like Amina Cain, Tao Lin, Joshua Cohen, and Ben Lerner, have chosen the realism route, writers like Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Grace Krilanovich and Joyelle McSweeney are on the side of surrealism. All of these writers (with each I’m thinking of their latest works) do powerful, amazing things, but I’d like Crystal Eaters to be a book that sits kind of in the middle as a book that does the realism vs surrealism thing, or at least attempts to do it (it has a lot of flaws, it kind of is a piece of shit with glitter) without sacrificing one for the other. Using the star or constellation metaphor as an actual visual I see Crystal Eaters in the middle, but somehow way in the back, connecting to these other books by thin galaxies.
Shane Jones lives in Albany, New York. He’s the author of several books including Light Boxes, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, and Crystal Eaters. Follow him @hishanejones