How to Be Human

Paula Cocozza. Metropolitan, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-12925-3
Cocozza’s excellent first novel slyly handles its relatively quiet premise: a woman, Mary, finds fulfillment in the bond she develops with a neighborhood fox. Taking place almost entirely on Mary’s London property and in its neighboring woods, “an island of wilderness in the inner city,” the novel revolves around territorial disputes—between neighbors, between exes, and between humans and animals—which accounts for the whiff of menace detectable throughout. Two males are “stalking [Mary’s] periphery,” a creepily solicitous ex-boyfriend named Mark and a fox, whom she one day spies sleeping curled on her lawn, “his head pok[ing] out from the bottom of the curve like an unfinished question mark.” The creature will remain an enigmatic presence, undomesticated and ultimately illegible, even as the intimacy between him and Mary grows. Cocozza occasionally switches to the fox’s point of view, brief, defamiliarizing glimpses that add a distinctive tang to the narrative. Here is the fox picking up a scent: “Salty snail odor tunneled into his muzzle. From the fresh male who was an old male who was a slithery male.” The portrayal of that slithery male Mark vacillates between ominous stalker and harmless sad sack, an unsuitable foil to his vulpine rival. The magnificent and mysterious fox lays claim to the novel, indelibly marking Mary and reader alike. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/27/2017
Release date: 05/09/2017
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-1-250-12926-0
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-14-319922-9
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