Book Review: White Fox by Sara Faring
Mireille Foix was a superstar, the last embodiment of Old Hollywood glamour, a naif who burst onto the big screen after a reclusive, impoverished childhood on the European island nation of Viloxin. Years after establishing her career, she met and married another Viloki icon, an American immigrant to the island nation who audaciously renamed himself Hero Hammick after gaining citizenship. Hero was the brilliant mind behind Hammick Pharmaceuticals, a man determined to unlock the unique genetic material of the island’s natural resources in order to create life-saving drugs for the world. Mireille in turn devoted herself to the Foix Institute she founded to better the everyday lives and educational opportunities of the Viloki themselves. She and Hero raised their two daughters, Noni and Tai, in a seeming idyll till the day Mireille abruptly fell off the face of the planet.
The girls, aged 7 and 8 at the time, were shipped off to live with their Aunt Marion, Hero’s sister, in New York City, while Hero and his younger brother Teddy buried their grief in their work. Teddy, at least, reached out to the girls from time to time, but after an initial disastrous visit to the States, Hero decided to remain in isolation on Viloxin. His death a decade later prompts the girls to return to the island and to finally begin unraveling the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.
Speculation has long abounded as to what happened to beautiful, glamorous Mireille. Legend has it that she hid clues to her fate in the script she was writing for her last project, codenamed White Fox. Only one person claimed to possess any part of the script after Mireille disappeared: the viciously xenophobic Daria Grendl, Mireille’s former assistant, who sees herself as the sole rightful keeper of Mireille’s memory. As the girls begin collecting pieces of the script seemingly left behind for them by their mother, they are forced to confront Daria about what she knows. Daria is only too happy to spitefully explain:
“White Fox tracks your mother’s loss of faith–her disillusionment with that diverse utopian ideal she and your father built their lives on–through her own life journey. White Fox is a failed Mireille, and White Fox is a failed Viloxin. You see, girls, your mother was just another victim of burnout. When her beauty began to fade–and with it, her charisma–the shallow pool of her skills became obvious for what it was. She was never going to create a utopia on Viloxin. Her best days, as a beautiful young actress, were far behind her. And when she realized this, she dove deep into her disappointment, only to unearth the brutal mess that is White Fox, an elaborate and woefully unstructured yarn of a prostitute who endures whimsical abuse after abuse but never ages[.”]
But Daria doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does and certainly isn’t the only person who’s seen what is in the script. As Noni and Tai dig up more parts of a creation long thought lost, they find themselves edging closer to a truth that will shatter everything they thought they knew about their mother, their heritage, and themselves.
Noni and Tai are terrific characters, squabbling sisters with very different personalities who manage to unite their distinct gifts in order to follow the trail of clues their mother left them before she vanished. The White Fox script is strange and almost hallucinatory, built on layers of metaphor and deliberate obfuscation, utilizing Viloki myths and legends to tell an almost lurid tale that’s deeply enmeshed in the Foix-Hammick family history. The girls react quite differently to all they discover: outgoing, glamorous Tai firmly believes that her mother is waiting for them at the end of the trail, while introverted, intellectual Noni has long resigned herself to what she believes is the most likely outcome:
I was sad for my sister, then–and so jealous of her. Tai’s brain didn’t betray her by coaxing her into the darker reunion possibilities: Mama scraped empty by difficult years we would never know about; Mama revealing, stone-faced, that her departure had been for the best; Mama coming back only to leave us again. These were the possibilities that fractured my heart[.]
I’d told myself Mama killed herself so that she could be in control of her own story, in my head. So that I could control her story, and my own feelings of grief.
Creepy and atmospheric, with Sara Faring’s trademark injections of mind-bending technology (as well as a very fun callback to her debut novel, The Tenth Girl), White Fox manages at once to be a gothic mystery and a heartfelt examination of modern sisterhood. It isn’t quite as clever as I’d expected given how impressed I was with her debut, but it’s certainly a fine addition to the YA mystery genre.