A kitsune is a fox from Japanese folktale tradition. It can be a shapeshifter. It often has many tails. The kitsune can be a trickster. After finishing Fog Island Mountain, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the kitsune folktales and it makes me want to go through and read this novella again with new eyes, keeping watch for elements of the kitsune tradition.
This novel is about grief, about tragedy, about storms literal and figurative, and how we weather them. When South African expat Alec learns he has cancer, he waits for his wife Kanae to meet him at the hospital. She does not come. Instead she races away from Komachi, their small Japanese town, and tries to escape the dread and fear of her husband’s death by pretending he is already dead, that she is already living as a widow. She is wrecked by the thought of being left by him and so she leaves him. Meanwhile, a typhoon is coming, threatening with destructive winds and torrential rains. The story of Kanae, Alec, and Komachi is told by Azami, the oldest inhabitant of Komachi and the daughter of a famous poet and storyteller.
Fog Island Mountains is a slim book, a novella, that tells a complex story of grief and loss and love. It’s lovely and told in a style reminiscent of folklore while still painting the characters in stark relief. We don’t have very many pages to get to know and understand Kanae and Alec and their children. We don’t necessarily know all of their motivations or every step that brought them to these decisions, but you trust that they are genuine. Even minor characters are elegantly written.
The actual plot of this novel only covers a few days, which is one of my favorite devices in fiction, and Fog Island Mountains was no exception. This story, though, is about more than just the few days, it’s about a lifetime of love between Kanae and Alec, it’s about childhood and adulthood, it’s about a town, and it’s about stories.
Fog Island Mountains was awarded the Christopher Doheny Award for fiction, which is an award “which recognizes excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious illness by a writer who has personally dealt or is dealing with life-threatening illness.” Fog Island Mountains is about the choices we make when we are faced with illness, with life and death, with grief, even the anticipation of grief. The person that comes out when we are faced with the inevitable but impossible to imagine is not always a person we are proud of. Fog Island Mountains is compassionate and forgiving when it comes to these moments.
Fog Island Mountains is such a fast read, but filled with small moments I’m sure I missed, especially after reading more about the kitsune tradition that inspired the novel. It’s a novel I plan on revisiting.
I received a review copy of Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones from TLC Book Tours. You can read more about this novel and see the other tour dates here.