This is Horror and is written by the consistently brilliant Conrad Williams. Conrad's collection Born With Teeth was one of my highlights of last year, intelligent, literary horror that was enjoyable as much for the quality of the writing as it was for the stories themselves. As such, I was very much looking forward to this story, the third release in this series of so far very enjoyable short(ish) stories.
By way of a small digression, it is a joy to see this form of writing undergoing a resurgence. The length of these stories is just about perfect for the horror genre, long enough to develop plots and characters but not so long that padding is required. I love a good horror novel but I've ploughed through a couple of behemoths lately that frankly could have lost a couple of hundred pages without any real detriment to the plot. Much can be achieved in the shorter form and The Fox is a supreme example of this.
The set-up for the story is a familiar one with a family on a camping holiday, attempting to "connect" with nature. Connect they do, experiencing extreme weather conditions and encounters with the eponymous mammal.
Foxes have a well established connection with folklore and mythology, are regarded in some areas as familiars, possessing supernatural and magical qualities. Lars Von Trier's "love it or hate it" (I loved it) film Antichrist uses a fox in a pivotal scene (itself a "love it or hate it" moment - again, I loved it) and I have to admit I was put in mind of it when reading this story. It's a passing similarity though and certainly not to the detriment of the chapbook.
On the surface a man v nature story, there's so much more to this. The story's protagonist is certainly flawed, and it's his encounters with the fox which reawaken his guilty conscience, bringing back memories of his teenage years where his character was in part shaped by sexual frustration leading to acts of cruelty.
There's a hint of karma to the story too, the fox encountered in the present day setting may or may not be a supernatural entity, may or may not be "out for revenge" - in truth, it doesn't really matter, the ambiguity adds to the overall story, enhanced by this being a first person narrative from a fairly unreliable narrator. Chickens (pardon the pseudo-pun) definitely come home to roost in this tale.
The Fox is another quality piece of writing from an extremely talented writer. It's another quality product from the publishers and is one I highly recommend. You can buy it - or, better still a subscription, here.