Discussion of writing style Humor Humour Review of Fantasy satire

Ever wondered how a fox would sound if it could speak? – Fox 8 by George Saunders

Fox 8 – A Story, by George Saunders (Hardcover: publisher: Random House; First Edition November 13, 2018, 64 pages. Illustrations by Chelsea Cardinal)

I have often pointed out in these posts, that I favour brevity and carefully chosen words over flowery writing. It is much harder, and much more time-consuming, to write and edit something short, than to write a piece that rambles. In the latter case, a writer runs the risk of succumbing to “Purple Prose Syndrome”.  Philosopher Blaise Pascal’s comment about brevity is so true that it became famous: “I only made this letter longer because I had not the leisure to make it shorter.” So, I can only surmise that George Saunders took simply ages to create Fox 8. The story isn’t quite 47 pages long because it also includes minimalist line drawings by Chelsea Cardinal. But it is 47 practically perfect pages.

It is a palm-sized novella of few words, carefully chosen. A novella is longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel, with a word count between 15,000 and 40,000 words. Well, this one won’t even make 1000 words. But it does have chapters, progression, plot, etc., so it is a novelette.

The first person narrator is a talking fox, “Fox 8” – a small, cheerful, clever, daring fox that has an over-active imagination. A talking fox, though? Is it for children? It’s not. It might be a small book but it is very witty, sharp and thought-provoking.

You really feel for “Fox 8” even though you do want to take a red pen to his awful grammar and spelling. But what else would you expect from a fox that learns English from listening to a human reading bedtime stories to her children, and then teaches himself to type?


Fox 8 in the act of typing out this very book.

Suspend your disbelief and you’ll quickly get used to the fox’s literal interpretation of English pronunciation and homophones: It’s like the writing of a kid in elementary school, or someone who has learned English by watching TV (and in a way the fox watching through the window of the house is like him watching TV).

“Here again was the Sun! Here again Clowds!
I cud not wate to see Fox 41, and go: Hi, Fox 41, perfeshunal turd, care for some fud?
But upon reaching the edge of Par King, guess what we did not find?
Fox 41.
Or the other Foxes.
Or are Den.
It woslike we had gone out a hole difrent Dore than we had gone in threw.
Now, one thing I lerned from Storys is, when something big is about to okur, a riter will go:
Then it happened!
This tells the reeder: Get Reddy.
Here I go:
Then it happened!” (p.29)

Fox 8 was like, sorry, woslike, an innocent that knows just enough about humans for them puzzle the heck out of him. He doesn’t so much worry about his personal misfortunes as about why people are just so plain nasty.

Aren’t those pointy little cuspids just adorable?

If you want to find out what led to Fox 8 penning a letter to one human, asking him to please explain about other humans, read the book. You might expect the same old hackneyed outcry about animal cruelty and damage to the environment, but Saunders’ fox is cleverer than that – and this is, after all, satire.

I had my moment of saying, Awwww! and wanting to write to the publishers in answer to Fox 8 (no doubt his question will keep philosophers occupied for ages) but I guess that was the intention: Saunders wanted readers to empathize. And how do you do that? Make the character as human as possible – by giving him a voice. I usually hate anthropomorphizing, but in this case it works because Saunders is so very clever with the voice of the fox. Even Fox 8’s expressions and mistakes are consistent.

Saunders confirmed, not long after publishing this (the audio book came out in 2013), that he is a master at creating unique voices for characters when he produced Lincoln in the Bardo. But whereas Lincoln in the Bardo can make your head fall off with the sheer effort of keeping tabs on the many voices of the dead, this teeny book is a pure pleasure to have and to hold. Go on, it’s a little gem – read it. Won’t take you an hour and you’ll love Fox 8, furry tail and all, for ever.

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