Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates

fox“For FOXFIRE was a true outlaw gang, yes…

But FOXFIRE was a true blood-sisterhood, our bond forged in loyalty, fidelity, trust, love.

Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, told from the perspective of Madeleine Faith Wirtz, looking back on her days as part of a girl gang in upstate New York: FOXFIRE. As a teenager, she was FOXFIRE’s chronicler, recording their actions for posterity; “Thus distortions and misunderstandings and outright lies could be refuted.” As an older woman, she looks back through the record and assembles the pieces into these FOXFIRE CONFESSIONS.

The novel burns with the passion of teenage girls banding together to seek power in a society that is determined to disempower them and to seek revenge against men who treat them with violence and hatred. FOXFIRE demands freedom in the face of sexism, poverty, abuse. The girls of FOXFIRE throw themselves into a female power fantasy, demanding respect and fear when none is given. Their actions are criminal and their violence has consequences, yet they share a bond and earn power that one can’t help but desire. The language of the novel mirrors the gang itself, full of energy and passion, careening towards a yet unseen end. Sentences run through entire paragraphs with little punctuation hindering their speed.

Names change as a person’s image changes: Legs visits a rich girl’s house in the guise of reformed, wide-eyed girl “Margaret,” Maddy lies in wait as “Killer” for a man with money to try his luck with her, as she becomes an innocent girl who gives her name as “Marg’ret.”

The center of FOXFIRE: a girl named Legs, sometimes Margaret Ann Sadovsky, andogynous in appearance yet burning with feminine fury. Legs brings FOXFIRE together and leads them with charisma and reckless rage. Boys fear her and girls vy for her attention, especially Maddy, who is for the most part closest to Legs and when she isn’t, becomes jealous of whoever is. Maddy describes Legs with awe: “I’d watched her striding across the asphalt school yard, I’d seen her running in the street, solitary in running, she was happiest running, in my memory once a few years before leaping over a dangerous pit of an opening in a sidewalk on Fairfax where coal thundered down a sliding chute from a truck, and the delivery man shook his fist at her, and swore at her, and Legs ran on not hearing, you wouldn’t have known except for the wild bushy ashy hair that she was a girl thus especially forbidden to take such risks.”

Foxfire is a book that tells about crime and violence, yet it holds a mirror up to the reader and asks, what would you do? When you are faced with crushing disadvantage, do you lash out? Do you find someone else to put down, and say, at least I’m not one of them? Or do you live in the boundaries of what is acceptable? The characters are relatable even in the midst of blood and rage, and they demand to be heard. Even when it’s over, you still feel the heat of FOXFIRE, after all, FOXFIRE BURNS & BURNS.

Reviewed by Kayleen M ’18

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