What does the fox say?

Fox 8: A Story

By George Saunders

Fox 8 has always been known as the daydreamer in his pack, the one his fellow foxes regarded with a knowing snort and a roll of the eyes. That is, until Fox 8 develops a unique skill: He teaches himself to speak “Yuman” by hiding in the bushes outside a house and listening to children’s bedtime stories. The power of language fuels his abundant curiosity about people—even after “danjer” arrives in the form of a new shopping mall that cuts off his food supply, sending Fox 8 on a harrowing quest to help save his pack. Told with his distinctive blend of humor and pathos, Fox 8showcases the extraordinary imaginative talents of George Saunders, whom the New York Times called “the writer for our time.”

-via Goodreads

Fox 8 is written from the point of view of a fox who has learned English by listening to a mother read stories to her children. The entire story is a letter so is written phonetically (although I suppose we shouldn’t think too hard about how a fox can write a letter if we’re entering a world where a fox can understand and speak English). A quick note about Fox 8’s voice – I love how bro he is.

Fox 8 tells the other foxes in his pack what he has learned and they are suitably impressed. The “Grate Leeder” of the pack uses his skill to read a sign that has been erected near their home. It reads “FoxViewCommons”. The foxes are concerned, unsure what the sign means. They quickly learn.

Construction begins and eventually a mall is in place. The foxes are impacted negatively. Their home was been ruined and made smaller. They are starving, some even to death. Fox 8 watches the mall and learns about a food court. Fox 7, his friend, agrees with Fox 8’s plan to get food for their family from the mall. They are able to follow a young girl through automatic doors and are amazed to find real trees and water inside the mall. (Fox 8 notes that something smells wrong with the water but let’s that go.) Humans drop food for them. They eat and then take the rest with them for their pack.

On the way home, they cross the parking lot but can’t find their den. It’s like they got turned around – possibly exiting through a different door. Two humans see them and aren’t nice like the ones inside. They throw things at them, eventually hitting Fox 7 who falls over. Fox 8 runs away and watches the humans kill his friend.

Since he can’t find his family, Fox 8 wanders for days until he finds a new pack that will let him join. Fox 8 is sad and tries to find his former pack mates but it’s like they just disappeared.

Fox 8 has written this letter to the humans to tell them what is wrong with them. He wonders how an animal that can make something as amazing as a mall could also kill Fox 7. He doubts a human would do that to another human. Silly fox. And, sigh.

Fox 8 can’t see everything that is nice and good in the world now that he has experienced the loss of his friend and pack. His new mate chastises him to change his mood, especially now that he is to be a father. But Fox 8 can never really feel safe again, despite being in a good place with a new pack.

He reminds humans that so man of our stories have back endings. If we want happier endings, we need to be nicer.

This short and strange parable resonated with me. I know the feeling of how an experience can change your entire worldview. Also, I believe we should all strive to be nicer to each other so his simple message hit me in the gut.

Be nice. Be happy. Remember the fox’s letter.


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