Another tricky treasure from an internationally renowned author.
Ugresic has been in exile from her native Croatia since the region emerged as a country after the breakup of Yugoslavia. A vocal critic of nationalism, she was, she says, branded a “whore, a witch, and a traitor.” It’s that second slur that is most intriguing when it comes to reading the author’s work. In Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (2010), she used a magical crone from Slavic folklore as a lens through which to view contemporary women’s lives. Here, she takes inspiration in the vulpine creature who gives this new book its name. As a mythic figure, the fox takes on and sheds attributes as he—or she—travels across cultures, but one characteristic seems to remain constant: The fox is an ambivalent type. By making the fox a sort of mascot to the first part of her novel, a section called “A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written,” Ugresic is creating an affinity between the writer and the trickster. Even at her most straightforward, Ugresic is a sly storyteller, and here she is using every trick in the postmodernist playbook. Indeed, there are moments when it seems like she’s pulling a fast one even when she isn’t. For example, a reader who isn’t knowledgeable about early-20th-century Russian literature might be forgiven for thinking Okay! An American Novel by Boris Pilnyak is an invention simply because that title is just too perfect. If Okay! is Ugresic’s creation, it’s a clever one. But the reader who bothers to Google is in for the delightful discovery that both Pilnyak and his “American novel” are real. Then we’re left to wonder what true and false mean in fiction anyway, a question Ugresic complicates by using a first-person narrator and autobiographical detail. The translators deserves special mention, too. “The fox meets frequently with affliction, and is thus consigned to loserdom, its personal attributes preventing contiguity with higher mythological beings.” The juxtaposition of “loserdom” and “contiguity” is not only funny; it also captures the high-low essence of Ugresic’s style.
Brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny.