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Fox 8 is writer George Saunders' plea for human kindness

The celebrated author has penned an illustrated fable about human greed, with a message for change and greater kindness.

George Saunders’ slight new book at first seems like it might be for children, complete with spare, charming drawings by illustrator Chelsea Cardinal. Perhaps the much-lauded writer of Lincoln in the Bardo has tried his hand, à la Neil Gaiman or TS Eliot, at penning a parable-like children’s story? But this assumption is quickly put to rest once you’re a few pages in.

Yes, Fox 8 feels like a fable, and yes, the short story initially sounds sentimental and didactic. But you will quickly find yourself gripped by the eponymous fox’s complex, affecting tale of his encounter with “Yuman” beings.

Fox 8 has listened in on Yumans long enough to have begun to master their language, and so he writes, in broken and evocative prose, the story of what happened to him and those foxes near and dear to him when they interacted with the Yumans putting up a shopping mall in the foxes’ home, now a newly deforested exurb. Fox 8’s telling of his story is reminiscent of the inner monologue of Alison Pope, which Saunders fans will recall from Victory Lap, the opening story of his collection Tenth of December.

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Like Pope, Fox 8 reveals profound truths in an idiosyncratic, hare-brained way that manages to convey what matters most. Fox 8’s message to humans is simple yet profound: “Try being niser”.

Fox 8 is an earnest and insightful appeal for all of us to do better, and Saunders conveys the message of this short and surprising book in his matchlessly smart, cockeyed, likeable style.

FOX 8, by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, $24.99)

This article was first published in the March 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.