In the Time of Foxes by Jo Lennan
In Jo Lennan’s varied, beguiling debut short-story collection, the psychological qualities often ascribed to foxes are evoked as often as their visual and habitual distinctions. The foxes of these stories are creatures of beauty and interest, inspiring fear, admiration, revulsion, and guilt, but they exist in parallel to their human observers – there is no kinship here.
The ruthless destruction and brazen wastefulness of a fox killing beyond its need for food, or perhaps self-catering to an impulse of indulgently specific culinary desire, echoes the climate crisis, or the vicious creative ecosystem within the London theatre world. A woman struggles to deal with a fox infestation and her mother’s mental decline. A ‘foxfaced’ young woman escapes a cult, but not her past. Faced with the return of cancer, a war correspondent in a ‘post-fox environment’ is surprised by a different mortal reckoning. Certainly, foxes are a pervasive motif, but they are by no means the focus.
These tales have in common moments of betrayal and survival. Not always the moments themselves, at times it is the instant in which a betrayal is realised, or the pursuit of survival is chosen – sometimes as a lucid decision to privilege the self over another, at others the arrival of a sudden, energised defiance of probability. Things are often not what they seem, and the interaction between past and present is fraught. Violence, ambition, loyalty, structural sexism and harassment, extraordinarily tenacious exboyfriends, ethical dilemmas – Jo Lennan fossicks through a wealth of human experiences, revealing her finds with the skill and precision of an old hand.
In the Time of Foxes transports us near and far, but in every situation Lennan’s acute eye for human preoccupations and foibles – and light but sure hand dispensing the details that shift a moment from everyday to life-altering – make this book an absorbing distraction you won’t be able (nor wish) to resist. Lennan is a talent to watch.