Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fox Bunny Funny
by Andy Hartzell

I must admit that I got the wrong initial impression of this book when it first arrived in the mail - I looked at the black and white animals acting in pantomime and the first thing that occurred to me was that Andy Hartzell must be quite enamored with the work of Jason. Well, after reading the book I'm no less convinced that Jason is an influence, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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Fox Bunny Funny is a wordless story - more a parable, really - which introduces us to a world wherein a race of anthropomorphic foxes prey on anthropomorphic rabbits. Fox culture is totally carnivorous, with the act of killing and eating of rabbits positioned at the center of their society. The rabbits live nearby, in similar cities and towns protected by an ostensible border, but as we see throughout the book these borders are often violated by raiding parties of rapacious foxes.

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The metaphor here is clear but also wide enough to inhabit a number of interpretations. The first that springs to mind is sexuality - with the meat-eating, predatory foxes representing hetero-normative behavior, enforcing societal pressure on "feminine" foxes who refuse to identify explicitly with the homicidal fox program. Later on in the story a young fox stumbles upon a tolerant mixed settlement with fox and bunny living in harmony (although it is not made clear what exactly the foxes are eating in these scenes). The revelation can't help but remind the reader of the typical "discovery" narratives for young homosexuals who first experience homosexual culture as distinct from parochial straight society - there's even an implication of trans-species surgical procedure.

I have to give Hartzell credit for designing a metaphor that resists any kind of easy identification on the part of the reader. As much as the story strongly suggests certain interpretations, there are enough disturbing and counter-intuitive implications throughout the story to add a large dose of ambiguity to any attempts at pat summarization - just what is up with the rabbit eating the foxes? How does interspecies cannibalism support the idea of peaceful coexistence? Hartzwell asks these questions directly throughout the story, and it's to his credit that he doesn't shirk from giving the reader more than they bargained for in terms of disturbing imagery.

It's a quiet work, but the pleasingly small-scale works well for the central conceit. If the book were any longer it'd be too long, but as it is the story lasts just long enough to deliver a satisfying punch without wearing out its welcome or taxing the central metaphor any more than it can bear. A nice piece of work.

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