by Shane Jones
Two Dollar Radio
To adapt to the reality of death, we are endlessly devising ways to deny or escape it. As children, we deny it with the help of parental reassurances and religious myths; later, we personify it by transforming it into an entity, whether sandman or demon. Or in Shane Jones’s case, a novel. His third novel, Crystal Eaters, demonstrates his natural aptitude as a nefelibata: one who lives in the cloud of their own imagination or dreams. He detoxifies the reality of death by taunting it, challenging it with visual daredevilry. In the impossible universe of Crystal Eaters, humans are at the mercy of their own tetragonal systems—stacks of crystals deplete in incidents of sickness or physical trauma, reinforcing the notion that one carries within the spores of one’s own demise. Every action, from falling off a bike to the common cold, can deplete a person’s crystal count. Aging is a terror in and of itself. A mirror for today’s obsessions, wrinkle creams and raw diets cannot prevent the the inevitable crystal depletion in Crystal Eaters. Only the rare black crystal can stall death with its distracting myth of immortality, but it also brings out a varicolored insanity in those who ingest it.
The novel’s central character is Remy, who suffers from a severe bouts of disassociation. Her family life is in critical condition. She mourns for her dying mother. Her father is emotionally withdrawn, expressing himself in outbursts of rage. Her brother, Pants McDonovan, an inmate at Ellsworth Correctional, holds court as the keeper of technicolor dreams. Remy, when not running through mines on all fours as a dog, or drawing crystals on her walls, must decipher reality and life from her own dreams and perceptions which hang on the dwindling crystal count in her body. Søren Kierkegaard said, “What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?” Try not to laugh when you meet Jugba Marzan who “smells like hot dog water and mouth mints,” or Remy’s second dog, Dog Man, who calls her “the princess of castle puke” in an apocalyptic dream.
Reminiscent of Brautigan’s surreal masterpiece In Watermelon Sugar, with his iDEATH and tigers, where each day has a different sun with its gangs of colorfully nicknamed bandits, Crystal Eaters is also a dream within dreams, but of a sun set to “swallow the earth for reasons of expansion.” There is an inconspicuous beauty hidden in Jones’ world of burning buildings, painted murals of skeletons wrapped in roses, and “crab-walks away to the sound of ringing bells.” Line by line, it’s impossible to break away. Transcending conventions with singular brilliance, Crystal Eaters is the girl who runs topless through an aerobics class of sleepy geriatrics.