Saturday, June 10, 2017

How to be Human by Paula Cocozza

We lived for a time in the countryside in Western New York. The wide open land and sky were nothing less than thrilling to this suburban girl, and for the many years we were there, not a single day went by that I didn't experience that awe anew. We realized quickly that there we were nature's guests, and not the other way around. Our yard was regularly traversed by turkeys, deer, snakes, and a little red fox who would trot blithely across the lawn and down a trail, the formality of house and property lines and mowed grass mere aberrations in a larger, untamed territory, At night, it was even more clear that this world did not belong to us. We would hear coyotes echoing across the fields, an otherworldly noise like nothing you can imagine. And if you have never heard it before, the scream of a fox calling for a mate will send you running to the phone to summon the police because surely a woman has just been murdered nearby. Could such a bloodcurdling sound come from the same charming fox who looks so soft and companionable in the early morning light?

In How to Be Human (Metropolitan Books, 2017) Paula Cocozza's beguiling fox lives closer among people, regularly haunting the backyards of a row of London townhomes abutting untamed urban space of their own. His presence alarms most of the neighbors who are quick to entertain plans to call the exterminator. Mary is the exception. Her engagement recently broken, Mary has lived alone for the last months, and is still struggling with the breakup. She is depressed, her job is in jeopardy, and now that Mark is gone, she really has no meaningful human relationships. She alone observes the fox and sees his beauty, sees that they are connected.

One night, Mary is called upon to sit for the baby next door, and soon after runs into Mark on the street. These two experiences - the tenderness of her feelings for the baby, the visceral reminders of Mark - begin to break something open in her, and this breaking comes to a head the following weekend where she must confront both again at the neighbor's barbeque party. That night, following the party, the baby mysteriously appears on her doorstep, and havoc ensues. Mary and the fox become closely and extraordinarily bound in a suspenseful and remarkable relationship, forcing her to confront her demons.

I loved every moment of this remarkable novel. Paula Cocozza writes beautifully of Mary's moments of intimacy with this wild creature, detailing fox movements and behaviors so subtle and surprising you imagine she has lived this experience firsthand. I loved, too, that the fox had his own voice, that we read from his point of view through poems of sorts, with fox phrasing and fox cadence. Above all, I loved that the novel brought us right up to the edges of it means to be wild, what it means to be human, to what extent those boundaries can soften, and where the limits must always remain. Highly recommended if ever you have been enchanted by a fox, or any wild creature at all.

I received a complimentary copy of How to be Human from the publisher.

Happy reading!

1 comment :

  1. I never would have thought that a fox would "scream"! I lived down a dirt road when I was a girl, and we frequently saw turkeys and deer, though when you grow up in a state like Michigan, people think of deer more like rats, to be honest. Glad you liked the book!


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