(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

FOXFIRE is a novel about girls lost in the bland, male Fifties but girls who band together to work out a revenge for what has happened to women before and since. FOXFIRE is thus a novel about crimes against women, and about what happens to the young women who unite to fight the people and system which perpetuate those crimes. As Maddy Wirtz, the narrator of the novel, writes, “it was a time of violence against girls and women but we didn’t have the language to talk about it then.” FOXFIRE the novel is about the discovery of that language, as FOXFIRE the gang is about the revenge for the violence. And FOXFIRE is thus a novel of the Fifties written with the Nineties feminist consciousness. “Rebel Without a Cause” has become “Rebels With One,” “Laverne and Shirley” have become “Thelma and Louise,” as women in the novel are working out their revenge against men. “It’s true as I stated at the outset of these Confessions, FOXFIRE was an outlaw gang, and became even more so as time passed. And we were pledged not to feel remorse—FOXFIRE NEVER LOOKS BACK!”

FOXFIRE contains many Joyce Carol Oates trademarks. In work after work, Oates has probed the situation of naive young women seduced by some powerful male figure. In her classic 1970 story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” for example, it is the demonic Arnold Friend who lures Connie to her death. More recently, in the novel BLACK WATER (1992), the powerful unnamed “Senator” drives the naive Kelly Kelleher to her death (in a car accident which anticipates the two in FOXFIRE). Oates has often depicted this power struggle from the perspective of the victim, and her psychological realism has usually been overwhelming. Here, in FOXFIRE, the perspective is the same: that of members of the white underclass who are looking up at their personal and institutional exploitation. What is different is that the women in the novel—led by the larger-than-life Legs Sadofsky—have been given a language that empowers them to understand...

(The entire section is 827 words.)