The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

Rating: 3.5 of 5

A fox falls in love with a human and does everything in her power to win him for herself, no matter what. The biggest problem, other than her being a fox and him human, is that he’s already married to a woman he loves. She ignores her grandfather’s warnings and the numerous times she’s chased off or outright attacked by the humans. She’s in love and doesn’t care the cost.

But Yoshifuji, the object of her love, is equally fixated on the foxes. And his wife, Shikujo, who believes that foxes are evil tricksters dangerous to humans, watches as the obsession consumes her husband. All three are caught in a web of dishonesty, guilt and forbidden desires, and all three must find their own way out.

One of the best endings I’ve read in recent memory.

Recommended if you enjoy historically accurate retellings based on Japanese fairy tales told in diary form.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

A few passages I bookmarked:

I didn’t wish I were still a mere fox, but I wished being a woman were less of a burden.” (Kitsune)

But perhaps there is something more correct even than elegance. My father owns a set of sake cups, a treasure that has been in his family for a thousand years (or so he says). They are hand-formed of rough pottery randomly splashed with black and green and silver. There is nothing delicate, nothing elegant, about them…As a child, I liked them better than the facile perfection of porcelain. ‘They are honest,’ my father said then. ‘They do not break when you drink wine.’ Perhaps honesty could be stronger, more beautiful than elegance and correctness.” (Shikujo)

…and so instead I take my tiny steps toward honesty and whisper the great truth here in my pillow book, and perhaps someday into my husband’s ear (whether Yoshifuji or another). Perhaps there is a Pure Land where we go when we die. But perhaps there is not. And either way, it is wise to live well, here and now. I will not run. I will be alive. The fox woman, my husband and I. Of us all, she understood this best.” (Shikujo)

If he sees the ball rolled across the snow, I will be so happy, but it does not matter; I will still build a world of the best of all these things.” (Kitsune)

(SPOILER)[spoiler]My favorite part was when Yoshifuji goes to live with Kitsune in the fox world. I loved how time was different in their world within a world. How the fox magic manifested all around them – in the house, ladies-in-waiting, clothes, etc. Like a magical bubble in the backyard. “I think I wouldn’t have seen my fox wife’s illusion if I hadn’t wanted it so much. That was a world where no one aged. My fox wife was eternally beautiful.”[/spoiler](END SPOILER)

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