'Confessions of the Fox': A Review By Laurel Moore

Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox (Atlantic Books, 2018) plunges readers into a side alley trash can of ‘rumor-mongers’ on a ‘pile of bloody legs and river water’, as chapter one begins on the precipice of a hanging.

‘The artist of Transgression is about to die.’

The fox as a symbol of cunning, much like Jonson’s Volpone and the integration of pre-existing fables to inform the ethical codes of characters, is reminiscent of the protagonist’s background in Rosenberg’s novel. Beneath the ‘shit-soaked hay’ smelling hood, there is Jack Sheppard, an 18th century thief and four-time prison escapee. To use Nikki Sullivan’s notion of mobilising ‘queer’ as a verb, Rosenberg queers the life of Jack, with a trans reimagining.

We have seen a similarly powerful retrospective consideration of trans lives in texts such as Kit Heyam’s introduction to Before We Were Trans (Basic Books, 2022), which explores John Sullivan, who was tried for theft of women’s clothing, which Sullivan was seen wearing in 1847, catching the attention of a nearby police officer. Sullivan dismissed these events as a ‘drunken joke’, but there is every chance this may be a pressurised response situated within its temporal context.

Writing back to the past and focalising our attention through a trans lens is something Rosenberg does so effortlessly with the stereoscope of perspectives that populate the metafiction: Jack Sheppard, Dr R. Voth (the imagined editor and trans academic in a Nabokovian twist) and Rosenberg’s own quasi-biographical experiences, not to mention the intertextual references to Donne and Kafka, giving the text a polyvocality that still makes trans* voices more redolent than ever. Confessions of the Fox is a vestige that speaks to ‘those who came before, and fought the police; those whose names we know, and those whose names we can never know’.

Taken from the Editor’s Foreword: ‘Quiet shot of car interior. Aging guy. Beard scruff. Hands on wheel. Black night. Cue music.’ With the slug line resonances of ‘car interior’, which is to be set against an unknown soundscape, this creates an undoubtedly filmic aesthetic, achieved by this string of collocation to hook us in, if we weren’t already. Each dichotic phrase unlocks a sense of intimacy, as we learn more about the ‘Beard scruff’ of the protagonist in the privacy of his car. The constant shifting of our attention is furthered by the brevity of Rosenberg’s endnotes that ditch numerical convention, and instead opt for glyphs that are hardly ever used for the purposes of endnotes (such as * § ¶ † ‡), but they still have a sense of familiarity to us. The endnotes are a collection of queer witticisms, as well as insightful commentary that defines certain terminology, breaking the already shattered fourth wall.

Amongst the tantalisingly emphatic humour lies a pertinent exploration of the self, since on several occasions we see the raw emotion felt by Jack as he cries, although it’s not overly drawn out, maintaining that sucker punch of fragmented syntax, in the same vein as a filmic jump cut.

‘A Sob rise—catches—scalds his throat’ exhibits a love of em dashes that would give Emily Dickinson a run for her money. The necessity of the capitalised ‘Sob’ acts as a means of processing such a violently unjust fate, which has infiltrated his sobs with a toxicity or acidity that scalds. The sense of omission via the dashes adds to the rhythmic qualities of the text, in an effort not to waste words in these crucial last moments, or even the frantic shorthand of an onlooker trying to note as much as possible, before it is erased by history, and the unforgiving passing of time.