cover image Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox

Helen Oyeyemi. Riverhead, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59448-807-8

In this highly conceptual novel from Oyeyemi (White Is for Witching), the writer St. John Fox receives a visit from his muse Mary while his wife Daphne, whom he taught early on not to complain, sits upstairs,. Thus begins a playful but frustrating examination of storytelling, inspiration, and mythology, with a specific focus on how some male writers have traditionally treated their female characters. Oyeyemi recounts this multi-layered tale from each of her characters' viewpoints (often in letter form, and at times from alternate versions of a character, such as "Dream-Mary"), yet the larger effect feels muddled rather than illuminating. Stories-within-stories (Mr. Fox's fiction) wrestle their way in as well, and include the intriguing tale of an orphan boy in Egypt and a Nigerian girl with a heavy heart; and an impossible little girl's paid companion. Mr. Fox certainly does seem intent on having his female characters endure gruesome circumstances, a tendency that his muse appears to challenge, though this critical aspect also remains obscure. The pleasure of Oyeyemi's gorgeous language and brilliant sensibility is almost entirely overtaken by the author's preoccupation with understanding the architecture of her own book. (Oct.)