Elizabeth's Reviews > Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates
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it was amazing

Foxfire is a book that read itself. At first, I found the choppy stream-of-consciousness style hard to deal with. I had to re-read the first few pages several times. But after the first third, or so, I began to get a feel for the odd prose style. The run-on sentences, capital letters, and lack of punctuation dragged my eye across the page and made the book very difficult to put down. I read most of the last two hundred pages in a single sitting and can’t remember the last time I finished a book so quickly.

Foxfire is many things. It is at once a blistering critique of the status of women in post-World War Two America, a coming-of-age novel, the thrilling, action-packed saga of a girl-gang in poor, working-class New York, and (above all) a portrait of Margaret “Legs” Sadovsky. The book succeeds on all fronts, but the depiction of Legs (and her motivations) is what has stayed with me most after reading it.

In many ways, Legs is as multi-faceted as the book itself. At once courageous and naïve, she is an undying proponent of individuality and freedom. Throughout the book, she spouts socialist phrases and ideologies, although she has no understanding of what any of it actually means, and experiments with commonly accepted paradigms of gender and power. (One scene, in which she unexpectedly discovers sexual power while dressing up as a man for a job interview is one of the most memorable and surreal episodes of the entire book.)

Though Foxfire is narrated by the quieter, bookish Maddie Wirtz, it is unquestionably Legs’ story. The Foxfire gang is her creation and Legs becomes an odd combination of bully and mother-hen to the group of lost girls that fall under her charge. Think of Legs as a sort of female Peter Pan; the working-class town of Hammond, New York is her Never-Never Land: a gigantic playground for female passion and imagination gone awry.

Indeed, the story is told in a remarkable, childlike style with an emphasis on the visual. Some of the images seemed to pop right off the page and I remember thinking, as I read, that the book would make a great film. (I’ve since heard that there is a Foxfire movie out there, starring Angelina Jolie. That surprised me, since I kept picturing Keira Knightly as Legs Sadovsky while reading the book.)

One example of the book’s emphasis on image is the heavenly motifs that pepper the text. Joyce Carol Oates emphasizes ‘sky’ and ‘altitude’ throughout the book. In fact, the sky seemed to take on an almost salvific quality for Maddie and Legs, the two main protagonists.

Legs’ interest in the heavens is established early on in the story, but both characters develop a pattern of looking upwards whenever they wish to escape their dreary, Earth-bound circumstances. One example is a memorable scene in which Legs climbs up a tall water tower to escape a seething crowd of male oppressors on Memorial Day Weekend. Later on, while stuck in an isolation ward in prison, she finds solace watching a group of hawks circle outside her window.

In addition, Maddie also develops a fascination with stars and astronomy. She is pictured reading astronomy books throughout the story. At the end, it is revealed that she eventually became an astronomer’s assistant and was (for a time) married to an astronomer, as well. While one can’t be sure whether such repetition was intentional,
Joyce Carol Oates strikes me as too deliberate a writer for the motifs to be entirely accidental.

She is also a hugely prolific one. So far, I’ve only read two of her novels: Foxfire and them, so I can’t comment on how Foxfire compares to the rest of her ouvre. However, both novels have left me suitably impressed with the quality of Ms. Oates’ writing and I look forward to exploring her body of work for many more years to come.

Foxfire is by far my favorite of the two books. It’s well worth reading, and offers taut prose, memorable characters, and a harrowing climax to anyone willing to slog through the first fifty pages. Some have complained that the book’s male characters are weak and one-dimensional, but I didn’t see that. It’s true that men are unquestionably painted as the villains in Foxfire, but Ms. Oates seemed to be making an effort here to make the men well-rounded. Mr. Whitney Kellogg, the main male character, came across as downright nice compared to the male characters populating them. For these reasons, I recommend Foxfire: not only as a compelling story, but as a good introduction to Ms. Oates’ body of work, as well.

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Reading Progress

August 24, 2010 – Shelved
Started Reading
September 4, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason So this one is worth checking out, I take it. As you know, I have yet to read Oates, and I wouldn't be quite so curious about Foxfire if it weren't for your rave (stream-of-consciousness tends to set my teeth on edge). I'll add it to the ever-growing list.

Elizabeth Thanks! : ) I usually can't stand stream-of-consciousness, either, so I was surprised when I not only could tolerate it, here, but it actually became one of the things I liked best about the book. Also, I seem to remember you sending out an e-mail recently looking for coming-of-age novels to put on a class reading list. Don't know if you're still looking for titles, but if you are, then Foxfire definitely deserves a place on the list. Also, is there any chance you could e-mail me the list when it's complete? I'd love some recommendations on new, good books to read!

message 3: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Sure thing.

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