Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Thoughts - When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
published 1995
272 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

When Fox is a Thousand is a lyrical, magical novel, rich with poetry and folklore and elements of the fairytale. Larissa Lai interweaves three narrative voices and their attendant cultures: an elusive fox growing toward wisdom and her 1000 birthday, the ninth-century Taoist poet/nun Yu Hsuan-Chi (a real person executed in China for murder), and the oddly named Artemis, a young Asian-American woman living in contemporary Vancouver.

With beautiful and enchanting prose, and a sure narrative hand, Lai combines Chinese mythology, the sexual politics of medieval China, and modern-day Vancouver to masterfully revise the myth of the Fox (a figure who can inhibit women’s bodies in order to cause mischief). Her potent imagination and considerable verbal skill result in a tale that continues to haunt long after the story is told.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 9/20/12

I'm feeling a little bit lost in this novel at this point - not lost as in, I don't know what is going on. It's more like I can't yet see how all these parts fit together into the descriptions I've read. Each character's story is interesting, with the story of the fox being the most compelling for me so far. I can sense that they will all, at some point, collide, but right now I can't quite see how that is going to happen. There are some elements of magical realism going on, and regular readers of my blog will know that's a tough genre for me to crack, so that could be part of my struggle. I'm certainly interested enough to continue, but it's been a bit of a slow go for me to really become immersed in the story.

Second Thoughts - 9/22/12

This novel continues to be just a bit of a struggle for me. I continue to find Fox's story the more compelling of the three narratives. I think it is perhaps because I like Lai's writing style better in those sections. The chapters with Artemis are much more straight-forward storytelling; the chapters with Lu seem so full of mysticism that I don't quite know for sure what is going on. Fox's chapters seem to combine the two styles in a way that feels very comfortable. I am trying to stop worrying so much about "understanding" every single part of the narrative, and just let myself go along for the ride and see where this story takes me.

"There are stories for beginnings and there are stories for endings. There are stories meant for healing and there are stories meant to cause harm. There are stories for explaining, meant to talk away the things that cannot be healed over. There are stories meant for company, when a pebbled soul calls out into the empty, owl-less night. There are stories meant to quench the thirst of the heart." (p. 168)

Last Word - 9/25/12

I think much of the issue I had with this novel was due to the character of Artemis - she was so incredibly passive that it was  nearly impossible to feel any real sympathy for her. I don't dispute that she had many challenges, but so many of them seemed to be a direct result of her refusal to take any real action or responsibility for her life. I could never tell if Lai was trying to make a statement about women in today's society, or specifically Canadian-Asian women, or if she just wrote this character to contrast with Fox's more aggressive personality, but I really did not enjoy the majority of the chapters that featured Artemis.

I think this novel would have worked better, for me, in a more academic setting - I know that much of the mythology and cultural references were lost, and having a group to discuss the novel with probably would help me feel like I could grasp those references more. I did enjoy Lai's writing style for the most part, and found much of the novel to by interesting, but I was never able to really lose myself in it the way I want to when I'm reading.

I read this novel as part of the A More Diverse Universe blog tour - I have been having a great time reading the reviews and recommendations from the other bloggers on this tour. If you are interested in more speculative fiction by authors of color, here is a list of all the books reviewed on the blog tour - so many great ones!

Also, here are some suggestions from Aarti of authors to check out - I have added a bunch to my TBR list!

While this particular novel wasn't my favorite of the year, it was certainly an interesting read, and I will definitely be checking out (a lot!) more books I've been introduced to by this blog tour.

Finished: 9/23/12
Source: my shelves
MPAA Rating: R - for sexuality and violence
My rating: 8/10 for technique, 5/10 for overall story, so - 6/10?


Liviania said...

Good review. I've seen this book on several rec lists, but haven't read any reviews yet. I can see how a passive character would be really annoying.

Care said...

Yay for Diverse Universe! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I hope you enjoy all the books that this even has added to your tbr.

Care said...

and you really have a great-gma who is 106? awesome and bless you both. My mom's mom made it to 103 and she was pretty much 'with it' till the end. She is why I volunteer at the local nursing home. I love my nonagenarian reading buddies!