Mr. Fox: Helen Oyeyemi
Imagine creating a novel whose characters decide their own fate and who main character is so unique that you wonder whether the realities he creates are real or just part of his imagination. Mr. Fox is a story of three interesting people. One Mr. Fox, the second Mary Foxe and finally Fox’s wife Daphne who seems to be the forgotten sole at the start of this novel. As we hear the dialogue between Fox and Mary and their banter we learn that Daphne is hidden away doing her own thing and never complains about anything. Fox seems to be a dominant character with a strong yet odd personality that makes the reader wonder why Mary Foxe comes barging in and immediately confronts him about the characters he creates in his short stories, the horrors of the violence inflicted on so many and the abuse many women take at his hand or shall I say his pen. St. John Fox has imagined his perfect woman, namely Mary.
The character enters and challenges Mr. Fox to a story duel you might say. Mr. Fox is a writer with an assistant named Mary. Real or fantasy at times it is hard to tell. Fox, kills off many of his characters or applies physical harm to teach them a lesson in his stories. Mary Foxe is incensed and challenges him with a game. Mary Foxe is a figment of his imagination and Mr. Fox within his realm of reality or fantasy creates what he thinks is the perfect female namely Mary. Mary is anything but what his wife Daphne is and arriving out of nowhere or maybe he just decided to conjure her up she comes into the room angry and fit to you might say be tied at the way he handles certain actions in his stories. The violence inflicted on the women in the stories this imaginary woman takes seriously where Mr. Fox states: “ it’s all just a lot of games.”
Some people need the harsh realities of life thrown directly at them and Mary Foxe decides to teach Mr. Fox some very important life lessons. Imagine creating stories where you are the characters, you control the action and you decide who lives and dies. Imagine making the author part of the plot more like an interactive story where you control the outcome, you decide the endings, surprises and you create the many variations on the themes decided. Fairytale or reality you decide after reading the stories for yourself. You decide what lessons are learned and still need to be learned.
The story continues with Dr. Lustucru a graphically told story about a man who decapitates his wife and then regrets it. Remember that this story or book is a retelling of Bluebeard the noble man who killed off his young wives because as the wife in this story asked too many questions and wanted to know too much. But, as Mr. Fox finds his perfect match so to speak in Mary Foxe Bluebeard found one too. One that fights back and the wife in this story fights back in unique way that would not only haunt the doctor but any man who has the same notion to decapitate his wife and then you might say undecapitate her. The ending will surprise you. Next, the author shares some letters from Mary to Mr. Fox and Mr. Fox to Mary each challenging the other in different ways and yet letting the reader know that there is much more to come between these two before all is said and I won’t say done but written or played out.
We hear the voice of Mary Foxe as she types away at the stories that she will share with Fox as the challenge begins, she takes the bait and meets him at a bar and the story takes on a different flavor. Whether it is real or fantasy we next hear the voice of Mary as she prepares to meet Mr. Fox, hand him her stories or pages and then he regrettably never shows up. Added in we meet the family that she lives with the girl she tutors and learn more about this Mary Foxe.
Mary Foxe lives with the Cole family and tutors their daughter Katherine. Within this plot we meet another version of Mr. Fox as she corresponds with him, takes the challenge and creates some stories, and then winds up seeing them burned by who is supposedly his secretary as we meet the other Mary Foxe with Fox himself chastising herself for allowing the stories or pages to be burned. The stories flash back and forth between Fox and Mary and Mary and the Coles. The challenge to create stories that both would become more involved in is created by both Mary and Fox and we sometimes see a crossover or blending of stories into one.
The book is filled with magic, realism, fantasy, graphic depictions of violence and the abuse some women take at the hand of men. The themes that I have gleaned in just reading the first five chapters are death, abuse, and the heartache of love.
Mr. St. John Fox, the one that Mary Foxe is angry with and challenges to a writing duel, creates stories where the female character winds up dead. But, not until Mary shows up or creates this challenge does he realize the error of maybe his attitude and ways. Not showing up for their meeting and then the coldness of his secretary and immediately sending us back to where they story begins in his office at home with Mary at his side.
The author flashes back and forth between scenes with Mary and the Cole family and then Mary and Fox. Fox seems transfixed with Mary and plays out some scenes with her as in the beginning of the book where she enters and allows herself to entice him as a man. The other side of Mary living with the Cole’s plays out the same type of scene with the father of the girl she is tutors. Which one is real and which is just his imagination? If Mary is an imaginary figure created for him in his mind why can others see her?
As I read this novel I realized that the author created three distinct plots. The first is Mary and Mr. Fox and their banters, games and dares to create stories in which they are both the characters and the end result might not be what the reader expects. The second is the fantasy world of Mary Foxe herself where she imagines herself living with the Coles and searching for someone to have in her life in the chapter in which she is Dream Mary. Finally, we have the stories themselves and the many different plot lines drawing in both characters. Just when you think you have it all figured out the author brings in Daphne, Fox’s wife to play a more prominent role. Deciding he is having an affair she tells him she is going to file for divorce and he better no try to stop her. The dialogue and the scene is priceless as he convinces her of his love for her and sort of placates her into staying drawing her into wanting to take part in their game. The many stories are quite unique such as Mr. Fitcher and The Training at Madame De Silentios. In this story we learn of a woman who takes in difficult teenage boys and turns them into perfect suitors. If this really works we could use it in the present today to train some of our teens in proper dating etiquette. The next chapter focuses on Daphne and Mr. Fox hosting a dinner party and Mary Foxe observing from afar. As the night progresses you can tell that the Foxes are just going through the motions and keeping up you might say appearances for the public. As he appears to belittle her and berate poor Daphne at every turn you wonder when she is going to get some spunk and stand up to him as the author weaves Mary into the plot and we learn that no much if anything will change Fox. As she asks: Do you want to stop playing? It seems to this reviewer that Fox lives in his own private fantasy world creating the scenes and outcomes to suit his pleasure and he’s using Mary to facilitate his stories and their outcomes. She is more like a vehicle to help him to survive as a man and as a writer.
The remainder of the stories tell about a death on a plane in London followed by Mary’s reflections about her father and his death and what part does Daphne play in this dangerous game and what does really happen to her?
The following story deals with Mary staying away after the previous events and Fox trying to win the heart of his wife once again. Would you believe he even tried to teach her to drive, got her driving gloves, as dear Daphne seems to have come alive. So, what is the purpose of the game? Fox and Mary seemed to be missing something in their lives and appeared to be using his other to fill the holes or gaps. Where they trying to court each other and finally fall in love? Were they trying to eliminate Daphne? Why does Mary tell him to turn to his wife when he seems so taken with her even though she is not real? Can in live with realities or only what he wants to create as perfection in his own mind by writing these stories? Hide and Seek is the name of the next story followed by Daphne’s voice being heard loud and clear. The author shares her inner most thoughts and feelings with the reader to allow us to get to know her and where she is coming from. We learn about their courtship, their interests, their feelings and the reasons why she wanted St. Fox. But, Daphne comes to a startling revelation about her husband and not only this game but also the contest or rivalry between her and the imaginary Mary. The final stories are My Daughter the Racist, Rules for Lovers which everyone might enjoy reading, and finally an ending which includes an encounter between Daphne and Mary. Reality or fantasy you decide! The last chapter will define the word Fox and you decide why the little girl in the story fears the fox cubs and who she really might be. In the final story Fox takes the role of an actual fox and Mary is an old woman. The analogies, the visuals are quite graphic as we hear the fox speaking as if he was a human and an animal. You decide what you believe and what you don’t believe. Just how deadly was this game and did anyone win? Interesting stories that you keep you not only guessing but wondering just how far this game would go if it continued a little longer. You decide after you read this the final outcomes for Fox, Mary and Daphne.
Fran Lewis: reviewer