Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the story of a fox – Fox 8 to be precise (the foxes in Fox 8’s immediate skulk refer to each other according to a number system), who hovers near a Yuman’s window and listens to stories being read to children and learns to talk and write (although his spelling is not so good, allowing Saunders scope to rebuild language from the ground up in a way that you’ll either find bewitching – if you like what Saunders does – or irritating – if you’re one of those people who didn’t get what all the fuss was about with Lincoln in the Bardo).
Fox 8 is something of a dreamer (the rest of his leash sometimes lose their patience with him) and something of an optimist (he thinks the best of Yumans, for instance, until they violently prove otherwise). Eventually (which isn’t all that gradual, given how brief the book is) man encroaches on the forest where he and his fellow foxes abide and Fox 8 is first distracted by the wonders of a newly built ‘Mawl’ and then forced to find a new way of life. As you’d expect from Saunders, it’s a cry of outrage about the state of the world and what we’re doing to it, albeit gussied up in words that make you look at the world afresh.
Here’s a brief excerpt to give you a clue about what to expect:
“Now it seems like the good times are mere lee smoke that, upon blowing away, here is the reel life, which is: rok hats, kicking, stomping.”
And the lesson of Fox 8 for those of you who don’t intend to read the book (or for those of you who read Congratulations, By the Way and will be reassured by the fact that Saunders is continuing to push a certain line):
“If you want your Storys to end happy, try being niser.”
Any Cop?: It’s the ideal stocking filler for any George Saunders fan you know. It doesn’t take long to get from one side to the other but it’s full of words that twinkle.