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Harry Gallon’s second novel, Every Fox is a Rabid Fox, is a curious animal. Our narrator, Robert, is a killer. An unintentional killer at that, but still a killer. Twice, in fact. And yet you like him. Maybe not immediately, because all things considered Robert isn’t the most likeable of people, but still there’s something about him that makes you want him to be okay. The sad thing though is that as the book goes on you know that he very definitely isn’t okay.
This is a book full of death. His uncle may or may not be a hitman, and the first time we meet on-again-off-again girlfriend Willow they also talk of how they would kill someone. The opening line of the book takes us straight into it: “All I can think about is killing pedestrians”, and by the time we’ve reached the bottom of the first page we know that Robert has killed both of his siblings. Robert’s older brother is a strong presence throughout the novel but it’s only at the end that the full, horrifying extent of what happened to him is revealed. The manner of his sister’s death, on the other hand, is with us from the outset.
The story is told from Robert’s point of view but it’s not always easy to get a handle on it. It’s not a linear narrative and it skips around between childhood incidents, recent memory and the present. It can sometimes knock the reader off balance but that just serves to give you a sense of the disorientation he is feeling. He is an unreliable narrator and you are never quite sure whether he’s telling you the truth, a misremembered truth or something that has been a delusion. We relive events in stark detail because for Robert the past is his present, and it has shaped what he is today. His parents have an unhappy marriage, there were traumatic incidents in his boyhood, and from a young age he is constantly haunted by the twin sister he elbowed out of the womb, coaxing and taunting him to take his own life as recompense.
Gallon deals with some big issues such as mental health, class, and how a toxic version of masculinity can be passed down through generations. Robert is the damaged child of damaged parents and it’s no surprise that they are unable to see him unravelling. Take his mother, for example. She has lost two of her three children (and is possibly on her way to losing the third), is deeply unhappy in her marriage from which she tries to escape by self-harming, and has nurtured an unrequited love for her homosexual brother-in-law for over twenty years. At times tragic doesn’t even come close. Robert’s father, meanwhile, had a skewed version of masculinity handed down from his own father (including witnessing the homophobia directed towards his brother) and he doesn’t really know how to deal with his wife or children as a result, or see that they are falling apart in front of him.
Gallon’s prose is scorching and unflinching and he doesn’t shy away from vivid, at times gruesome, descriptions. Nothing seems to be off limits, be it sex, masturbation, dead animals or the appearance of his miscarried sister on the bathroom floor. Bodily fluids and smells abound (cow shit and adolescent sex are particularly potent). There is dark, biting humour in this novel but it is also desperately, heartbreakingly sad and you can’t help but feel for everyone caught up in the mess.
Ultimately though, despite its hefty subject matter and fractured narrative, Gallon’s style is very readable and, by turns, brutal, compassionate and quite beautiful: “Calcium melts at around 860 degrees. Bones do not melt like rubber. As a porous matrix of mineral crystals they fall apart, resembling billions of hands holding each other tight, then tenderly letting go.”
Every Fox is a Rabid Fox is a short book and you could read it in one or two sittings. I found it compelling. The only time my attention did wander a bit was during the detailed descriptions of cleaning and loading different types of guns, but they are fairly few and far between and only a small blip in what I otherwise found to be an extremely absorbing read.
Every Fox Is a Rabid Fox is published by Dead Ink Books.