Crystal Eaters, Shane Jones, Two Dollar Radio, 2014, 173 pp
I had a tough time with this novel. I checked it out because I admire indie publisher Two Dollar Radio and I had listened to a podcast interview with the author on Other People. Set in a speculative world, or perhaps allegorical would be a better word, its gritty, even gross details actually made me feel yucky.
A small extremely poor village with seven dirt roads lies outside an ever encroaching city. The villagers mine crystal and sell it to manufacturers in the city for technological uses. They have mythical beliefs about crystal's properties, the main one being that every living creature is born with 100 units of crystal in their bodies. As life goes on this count steadily lowers due to accidents, injuries, illness, punishments, and emotional turmoil, until all the crystal is gone and death ensues.
Remy is sad throughout the book because both her dog and her mother are dying, her dad is stoically distraught, and her brother is in jail. The most mythical belief of all is that the crystal count can be replenished by ingesting a certain rare and hard to mine color of crystal.
At least that is what I could figure out. The chapters are numbered from 40 down to 0. Remy and her brother love their parents, death is inevitable, but also brings sorrow. The city controls anything that is good in the material world but the powerless villagers still have feelings.
I admit that the conceit with the crystals is original but the plot is not. If I had to live in that village I would welcome death.
In a Paris Review interview, Shane Jones says, "...prayer, crystals, myths, folktales, the universe as a system of life and destruction--I'm attracted to these things and they are players in the book."
The book garnered some highly positive, even adoring reviews, but it did not work for me.
(Crystal Eaters is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)