In Western fairy tales, we've got the werewolf, the man who changes into a wolf. But in the East, it's the fox who does the changing, into a man--or, more often, a sensuous, seductive woman. In her skillful debut, Kij Johnson takes this classic Japanese myth (based in large part on a Royall Tyler translation
of a particular story) and spins it into a luminous, lyrical tale, a tender and whisper-quiet study of love, desire, joy, and the nature of the soul.
The Fox Woman follows two families, one of foxes and another of humans. The restless Kaya no Yoshifuji fails to receive an appointment in the Emperor's court and, distracted and seemingly unfazed, decides to relocate to a rural estate to pass a pensive winter, accompanied by his wife Shikujo and son Tadamaro. But a young fox named Kitsune and her brother, mother, and grandfather have set up their den in the run-down estate, and soon the fate of both families becomes intertwined; Yoshifuji becomes bewitched by the foxes, and Kitsune in turn falls in love with him, much to the distress of all others involved, especially Shikujo.
Johnson tells her tale in measured, intimate passages, through Kitsune's diary, Yoshifuji's notebook, and Shikujo's pillow book. The rich, truthful depiction of the Heian-era setting, punctuated by exchanges of poetry and steeped in emotive descriptions of both the fox and human worlds, establishes a still, meditative, and rewarding pace. With her thoughtful ear, Johnson offers a mature and knowing first effort. --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
HAn expansion of Johnson's acclaimed story "Fox Magic," this moving novel is based on a ninth-century Japanese fairy tale. Depressed by his failures in the emperor's court, Kaya no Yoshifuji brings his wife, Shikujo, and his eight-year-old son back to his remote country estate. There Kitsune, a young fox-woman, sees him and falls in love with him. Through the diaries of the three main characters, we see that as Yoshifuji's sadness drives him away from his wife, he finds himself strangely obsessed with the family of foxes in his garden. This obsession terrifies Shikujo, who has disturbing memories of a fox-man who once appeared in her dreams. Later, when Shikujo returns to the capital to try to salvage her son's career in the imperial court, Kitsune and her family use fox-magic to create an idyllic imitation of the human world, into which they lure Yoshifuji. He believes the illusion and marries Kitsune. But in this fairy tale, marriage does not end happily ever after. Kitsune fears that Yoshifuji will someday see that his beautiful human wife is in fact a fox, their house a hole in the ground and their dainty food mice and insects. It is clear that the precarious illusion will soon unravel. A meditation on poetry, ritual and humanity, Johnson's fairy tale is a literate, magical and occasionally grotesque love story. Yoshifuji and Shikujo often communicate with each other through poetry; beautiful haikus and wakas provide intense glimpses into their characters. Steeped in historical detail, Johnson's prose is uncommonly musical; it captures the atmosphere of Japan's old courts while avoiding ostentation. This is only Johnson's first novel, but it establishes her as one of SF's most remarkable stylists. (Jan.)
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