Fox 8, by George Saunders / *****

450x600Here’s what I’d prefer: I’d prefer that you just trust me on this one, and go pick up “Fox 8.” It’s only 99 cents for your Kindle, it’s hilarious, and it’s a short story by maybe the most gifted short story author working today. And really, that should be enough for you – this one is so much fun to just read and watch unfold, the language is a joy, it’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and the message is heartfelt.

But I recognize that saying all of that doesn’t really qualify as a “review”, per se. So let me say a little bit more. And then, you should go buy it.

“Fox 8” takes the form of a letter written by…well, by a fox. And that’s important here, because the fox is pretty much self-taught when it comes to our language, so his spelling is…well, “creative” is  great way to put it. His language is always understandable, if not quite accurate. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s how the story opens:

Deer Reeder:

First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I lerned to rite and spel as gud as I do.

Now, you might feel like reading that for any length of time would be annoying or exhausting…and yet, it’s not. Saunders walks the tightrope between “comprehension” and “animal” perfectly, distorting his language just enough to create a rich, fully realized voice without ever detracting from the story that’s unfolding. Indeed, that voice is the source of much of the joy of “Fox 8,” as Fox 8 explains why foxes are very fair with the animals they eat, tries to bond with humans, walks you through his daydreams, and explains just how optimistic and happy most animals are. Fox 8, in fact, is an gleeful, happy narrator, and his constant optimism never gets less funny, even as he tries to acknowledge how bad things are getting for him.

Exactly what the story is here should be left to you to find out; suffice to say, it opens with Fox 8 learning how to speak “yuman,” and then reading a few signs that have appeared near the habitat of his pack. From there, the story continues; it’s never a complicated story, really, but Saunders imbues it with heart, thoughtfulness, and a rich humor that makes it constantly entertaining.

And then, just when you’re settled into the glorious absurdity of it all, “Fox 8” takes a sharp turn, one in which we find out exactly why Fox 8 is writing this story, and what he hopes to accomplish. It makes for an emotionally effective turn, largely thanks to how well Saunders has established our narrator and his worldview, and makes his reaction all the more understandable – and heartbreaking.

“Fox 8” is, as are most Saunders stories, hard to pigeonhole. It’s got a simple, fable-like quality to it that makes it completely appropriate for a child to listen, and indeed, they’ll love some of Fox 8’s silly asides and some of the windows into the life of animals. But there’s something more profound and thoughtful underneath all of it, something that makes you realize that the story is deceptive in its simplicity, offering something less simple and fable-like, and something instead more realistic and complex. In other words, it’s another beautiful short story from one of the great writers working today, and a must read for any serious reader.


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