I have been teaching a lot of foxes this semester
I should say that by now I shouldn’t really be surprised how my workshop classes end up experimenting with murder, mystery and light-heartedness, yet still, I’m often amazed by how much beauty and brokenness emerges from the stories we read and write.
After concluding Mr. Fox novel by Helen Oyeyemi a few weeks ago, imagine my delight when I came across George Saunders’ Fox 8. I gobbled it up and it was replenishing. Affecting; how this lovely, smart, desiring Fox witnesses the murder of its kind, how “Yumans” in their misguided ways commit atrocities that not only eliminate a species but also leave the environment massively degraded. The fish die, the bugs, the foxes…
Glansing bak wile troting, I saw the huje and small Yuman doing such things to Fox 7 as: further hits with their hats, and kiks and stomps, wile making adishunal noises I had never herd a Yuman make, as if this is fun, as if this is funy, as if they are prowd of what they are akomplishing! Reeching a dirt klod big as me, I lay behind it, panting wile shaking. Which is when I saw the last straw of there croolty, which was: the small Yuman pikked up Fox 7, now ded, and flung him threw the air! Poor Fox 7, my frend, was spinning wile saling, like something long with a wate at one end! And what did those Yumans do? Stood bent over, laffing so hard! Then retreeved there crool hats and went bak to werk, slaping hands, as if what they had done was gud, and cul, and had made them glad.
You cannot miss the commentary on capitalism, modernity, racism, urbanization and ecological matters. First, the Yumans clear the forest to create FoxViewCommons, which is a humongous “Mawl” with “Par King.” This style of writing from the Fox’ perspective is very effective because all of a sudden important issues that could be in danger of becoming stale regain freshness, language itself is reinvented with a sense of serious play. The same can be said of creolization but that’s a topic for another time. Here’s one of the many reasons I love the works of writers such as George Saunders, Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami, David Sedaris, Helen Oyeyemi, Jorge Borges, Angela Carter, Ursula K Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson, and Rivka Gulchen, to mention a few. These masters, these experimentalists, play seriously in language without ever forgetting what they are doing. Their work is deeply perceptive, appears to be whimsical, fantabulistic, romantic, fairytale-like but never fairytale. Because they’re dealing with perception and ways of knowing at the core, these writers can bend reality, they can blur dreams and reality but never the cognitive and ethical search that emerges through their great fiction. In short, the truth. The sense of wonder.
In Italo Calvino’s Architecture of Lightness: The Utopian Imagination in an Age of Urban Crisis, Letizia Modena, who has studied extensively the works of Calvino, makes sense of this concept of serious play as “the distinct game-playing or ludic quality of the postmodern moment, with its pure, combinatorial play of language, surface and form.” This is pretty much what Saunders does when he creates the world of foxes to explore what Brian McHale in Postmodernism Fiction calls “ontological propositions” by placing the “werld” of Foxes in conflict with the werld of Yumans, while simultaneously commenting on the “croolty, fantastic, intresting, danjerus, luvving, dark, light, reel, fake, cul, evil, daydreeming total lee,” and so on. Here’s what Fox 8 encounters when he enters the Mawl with Fox 7:
We saw the Gap! We saw Eye Openers! We saw a Pet Store, with captured Kats! We saw a small River that, tho flowing, did not smell rite. We saw some Fake Rox. We saw Trees. Reel Trees, inside FoxViewCommons! It made us want to dig a Den! We saw a groop of Yung Yumans, waring brite close and dansing fast, and some Old Yumans we think are there mothers, hopping about kwite eksited, yeling advise, such as, Pik it up, Kristal! Or Smile, Kara, why look so sad wile dansing, babe? We saw a round thing which had Fake Horses upon it, on which they are enslaved and made to go circular, as Yung Yumans enjoy it by being plased on bak of them. I was left to wonder: Why wud Old Yumans enjoy putting Yung Yumans on Fake Horses? It was a total mistery. And remanes so. It is as if an Old Fox enjoys putting his Yung Fox on a Fake Deer. I for one wud not enjoy that. Altho it might be funy at first.
But that’s just half of the problematic werld. We also see clearly the epistemological issues I’d mentioned earlier such as appearance vs reality, singularity vs multiplicity of perspectives, notions or “distortions of desire and memory” the reliable and incongruous, especially considering that our dear narrator is a Fox that has spent time “lerning Yuman language, can “spel” and “heer prety gud, rite” to Yumans seeking “some eksplanashbun” and “speek” dog. This Fox can intricately and humorously explain the difference between sly and the poetics of survival. How much do we suspend our disbelief to reckon with his narrative?
We do not trik Chikens! We are very open and honest with Chikens! With Chikens, we have a Super Fare Deel, which is: they make the egs, we take the egs, they make more egs. And sometimes may even eat a live Chiken, shud that Chiken consent to be eaten by us, threw faling to run away upon are approche, after she has been looking for feed in a stump.
Not Sly at all.
Very strate forword.
Such a sensuous and cerebral Fox! But then we’ve known foxes to be exactly that, or at least, the tales of foxes oftentimes are intelligent and fun, and that’s part of why we love them. So we believe them because they’re truthful. Like music.
Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi is exactly about humans cutting down the trees, paving paradise to put up a parking lot. If we believe the song which deals with destroying “the birds and the bees,” to build “a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot…” in short, urbanization, modernization, at the expense of the environment and living creatures, then we must believe Fox 8’s concerns and consider his “bit of advise” even though it be “from a meer Fox.”
Then, perhaps, we might have a happy ending.
Here’s Fox 8 full story published in theguardian.