The Fox Woman, by Kij Johnson

the-fox-woman-by-kij-johnsonGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: threestars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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This is a hardcover I bought on a lark because I was feeling prosperous after a big run-up in my stocks. Well, now my net worth is about half what it was, and if I had things to do it all over today, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s not that this book is bad, just that it’s not $25 good.

This is a Japanese fairy tale set in some sort of medieval period I don’t recognize. A minor out-of-favor nobleman and his wife retreat to the countryside and are beset by foxes. The wife dreads them, fearing legends about how fox magic lure humans to their doom. The husband longs to be like them, free of the burdens of his unhappy life. And unbeknownst to both of them, one of the foxes – a young female – is falling desperately in love with the husband.

I was initially quite enchanted by the Japanese setting. Japan is an interesting culture that I don’t know much about, particularly pre-modern times. I have no way to judge whether this book faithfully represents it or not, but I feel like I got a few insights out of reading it.

Unfortunately, the book is really too long for the story that is told. This sort of bizarre love triangle tale could have been done as a novella. I personally think this would have been a very strong 40,000 word story. A couple hundred pages into it, I just kept thinking to myself, “Ok, get to the point”.

But the ending was a big positive for me – a testament to real life complexity and ambiguity and a hope for a better tomorrow.

The Fox Woman is worth buying in paperback, but isn’t a must read.

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