A Yuman Reviews "Fox 8"
“First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox!”
This begins George Saunders’ story, “Fox 8.” A tale of friendship, loss, environmentalism, animal rights, human development, destruction, and love, Saunders packs the story full of emotion, vibrant characters, humor, and tragedy in less than fifty pages.
We follow our title character, Fox 8, as he learns to read and speak “Yuman.” When humans destroy the fox group’s habitat to put in a mall (appropriately named: FoxView Commons) Fox 8 and his friend Fox 7 explore the mall in search of food. They get lost on their way back to their group and Fox 7 is killed by construction workers. Devastated, Fox 8 flees, walking for many days until he finds another forest, and another group of foxes, who take Fox 8 into their group as one of their own. The story is written as a letter from Fox 8 to “Yumans,” telling us his story, and asking us why we do what we do to animals, and to the earth.
There is so much to unpack in such a small tale. The way in which Fox 8 has learned to read and speak human leans heavily on phonetics. This forces the reader to slow down, chew over every “werd” to discern each word’s meaning. Saunders writes with extreme precision, each word meticulously spelled out to maintain Fox 8’s language. (“True lee” (6)).
At the same time, the language is broken, the words oftentimes so foreign in their spelling that it disrupts the reader’s flow (“curashun” for creation (11)). The reading of this story becomes fragmented, starting and stopping in a way that feels like the language is actively breaking down. This could be interpreted as the representation of the deterioration of conversation surrounding climate change and our contribution to it. A conversation that becomes more polarizing by the day.
Fox 8 (the character) carries a hopefulness in humanity through his journey that permeates the short story. Coupled with the broken language, Fox 8’s voice sounds very childlike. Early in the story, Fox 8 observes a mother putting her children to bed: “Then, due to feeling ‘luv’ wud bend down, putting snout and lips to the heds of her pups, which was called: ‘goodnite kiss.’ Which got a kik out of that! Because that is also how we show our luv for our pups, as Foxes! It made me feel gud, like Yumans cud feel luv and show luv” (4). Here, Saunders humanizes our main character, bringing foxes up to the level of humans, because they can both feel love and they both kiss their children goodnight in the same manner. Saunders also gives Fox 8 a standard for how he sees humans which is dangerously different from those of his other group members. It makes Fox 8 bold enough to approach humans when it is not safe.
Fox 8 meets the cruelty of humans with bewilderment: “Only then, running toward us in a startling maner, he threw that hat at us! From the sound it made upon not hitting us, but only Par King, I saw it must be made of rok. I gave Fox 7 a glanse, like: What did we do rong?” (30). Having never encountered the cruelty of humans, when the construction workers kill Fox 7 and laugh it is too much for Fox 8 to bear. Even after he finds a new group and is fed and safe, he cannot let go of his fear and sadness, and hence, decides to write a letter to humans.
There is a bone aching sadness at the end of this short story, as Fox 8, with his childlike voice, asks humans why we are cruel to animals. He writes that he has never seen a human be mean to another human, and hopes that we aren’t. Saunders offers us no reprieve, no answers, no resolution, no nugget of wisdom at the end of this short story, only questions to which our answers are invariably terrible.
We are left with the weight of our own culpability. We are pressed down under the knowledge of all of the FoxView Commons we've been to, all of the car rides we've been on, all of the places that we've been to that once were home to countless species, all of the things we've used up and disposed of that now poison some other living creature's home. Maybe we aren't so outwardly cruel as to kill Fox 7 in the same fashion as the construction workers, but Saunders seems to imply that we are all still responsible.
Fox 8 extends to us a small spark of hope in the closing page of the story:
“If you Yumans wud take one bit of advise from a meer Fox? By now I know that you Yumans like your Storys to end hapy?
“If you want your Story’s to end happy, try being niser” (49).
Perhaps if we are nicer to each other, to the animals that live on this planet with us, nicer to the Earth itself, maybe there will be fewer Fox 7s, fewer tales of tragedy, less guilt, less shame.
As we are only one day past Earth Day, 2019, all I can say is:
Read “Fox 8.” Read it well. Read it again and again.