A fox with a rose-tinted view of humankind is brought down to earth
George Saunders (Bloomsbury, £9.99)
So what does a writer do after a hugely acclaimed Bookerwinning experimental novel like Lincoln In The Bardo, which itself followed close on the heels of Tenth Of December, often described as one of the best short story collections in years? If his name is George Saunders, he resurrects a short 2014 e-book, slipping it between hard covers and sending it out into the world.
Apparently left out of Tenth Of December on the grounds that Saunders felt it would be “one stretch too many” for his readers, it takes the form of a letter written by a fox, the titular Fox 8, sent to someone he hopes will be kind enough to clear up his confusion about the nature of the human race. Fox 8 has become quite enamoured of humans, learning their language by eavesdropping on parents telling their children bedtime stories. He hasn’t got the hang of the spelling yet, so the book is filled with his vulpine phonetic approximations of English words.
Unfortunately, despite him having noted the unrealistic depictions of bears, owls and chickens in these stories, it hasn’t occurred to Fox 8 that humans might misrepresent themselves too. He’s only seen the good parts: the childrearing, and some of the amazing things, way beyond the abilities of foxes, that people have achieved. His rose-tinted view is as yet unspoiled by knowledge of their propensity for greed, violence and destruction.
Fox 8 is thus suitably impressed when he sees that the humans are building a mall nearby, called FoxView Commons – ironically, considering it will destroy the habitat of the very foxes from which it takes its name. This, he thinks, could be the solution to the food shortages the starving foxes are facing. They can steal it from the food court. The other foxes are dubious, but, puffed up by his daydreams of heroism and selfimportance, he investigates, completely
unprepared for a savage attack on his friend Fox 7 by construction workers. With the mangled remains of Fox 7 by his paws, and the habitat of his fellows being laid waste, all Fox 8 can do is ask why God saw fit to make the creatures with the greatest skills the meanest.
Despite the big print, low pagecount and the line drawings decorating almost every page, it doesn’t feel like a children’s book – the death of Fox 7, one assumes, might be a bit graphic for younger kids and the phonetic misspelling would certainly face resistance from parents and teachers. The fox himself seems to recognise that his tale lacks the happy ending and clear moral resolution of the bedtime stories he so admired. Perhaps Fox 8 would have fared better if it had been left in Tenth Of December. In isolation, promoted as “the new George Saunders book”, it’s much more noticeable that it has nothing particularly original or profound to say, getting by on the charm and innocence of its narrator and the keening poignancy of his plea for understanding.