February 12, 2016

Review: Pax

Pax Pax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This bittersweet boy-and-his-pet story has a fable's potency, with the tale coming across as both specific and symbolically universal. It has a lovely parallel structure between the boy's coming of age and training and the fox's similar experience of accepting responsibility in the larger world and adapting to it. Both sides are rendered with a clear-eyed spareness that is nonetheless usually quite visual. (The only "muddy" portion, visually, is the third-act location along the wartime riverbank, which seemed more sketched than fully evoked, which probably added to my issues with the ending.)

While I was fully engaged with the boy's narrative, the real joy was the wonderfully imagined life of the fox, who continues to jump around in my daydreams. His adventure is thrilling, rare, scary, and violent -- red in tooth and claw, I suppose -- and quite a feat of believable anthropomorphism without being cloying or twee. It's a real, visceral pleasure to experience life as this fox.

The ending, while providing a thought-provoking and realistic kick to the gut, seemed rushed after the long, involving, tense build-up of the training sequences in the second act. I wouldn't call it disappointing, but I was missing another moment, a physical payoff that would have deepened the emotional resonance in the ultimate decision. These characters worked hard to survive and prepare for their finale, and what we were given seemed not incorrect but certainly anticlimactic.

Or maybe I wanted to spend more time with Peter and Pax.

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