By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News
— 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.
What starts fun, however, soon becomes abysmal. Our guts are wrenched as as we discover, along with Fox 8, that his home has been destroyed by man. Fox 8’s utter incomprehension is just as tragic, if not worse than, say, the heartbreaking moment in “Bambi’”when the poor deer’s mother is shot. Things only get worse for Fox 8, as he discovers more human abuse, deals with harsh hunger, and searches for a new place to call home.
Thankfully things wrap up cleanly for our endearing lead character, but its not without plenty of suffering between. While individual tastes will certainly differ, this reader felt the story could have done with less pain, and spent more time on the fun and hijinks we get to witness at the beginning of the story. That said, if the heartache tied-in is the price of admission for a tale with such a loveable main character — you can almost feel yourself reaching into the book and giving Fox 8 a hug at times — it’s well worth the cost.
“Fox 8” is available on Amazon.com as a Kindle single and downloads instantly to your desktop, Kindle eReader, smart phone or tablet. It is a steal of a read at that price, and a great introduction to one of America’s most popular current authors.
Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.
• WHAT: "Fox 8"
• BY: George Saunders
• GRADE: B