George Saunders, author and professor at Syracuse University, has been nominated for, and has won, countless awards. Author of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s books, Saunders has won the National Magazine Award for fiction in 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2006, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
Saunders climbed to No. 2 on the New York Times Fiction Best Selling List this past February, when he released his short story collection “Tenth of December: Stories.” Fresh off of its success, the author published the short story “Fox 8” in April, the tale of a fox in an up-and-coming suburban neighborhood.
“Fox 8” is told first-hand through the eyes of a fox, who has learned how to read and speak English by watching a mother read bedtime stories to her children. Fox 8 — all foxes in Fox 8’s troop go by numbers, not names — spent years staring through the children’s bedroom window, and over time gained a rudimentary understanding of our language.
“Fox 8” is a comedy at heart, although there’s a heavy dose of heartbreak mixed in. A large part of the laughs come from Fox 8’s understanding of our language, and how he uses it. When he calls his friend “dude” mid-conversation, just try and hold off a smile. It’s not possible.
When authors attempt to create the lead character of a story, they are often instructed to stay away from using animals. Authors can run the risk of their story not being taken seriously, of readers being unable to connect with the hero and of their work being labeled as strictly “for children.” Saunders navigates his work well around such pitfalls, as Fox 8 becomes one of the most endearing characters I’ve read in years.
While character development is top-notch, the story itself suffers a bit, though hardly enough to ruin the fun. “Fox 8” starts off exciting and enjoyable. It’s a laugh a minute as Fox 8’s friends discover that he can speak English, and later, Fox 8 and his friend discover a shopping mall, where they have a heyday with all the free food they discover. Such scenes are delightful, whimsical – as if a classic Disney movie like Dumbo, or Snow White, were captured in novella form.