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  • Jennifer McDougall

A Review: Lori Fox’s "This Has Always Been a War"

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

In Fox’s view, literature is vital to the war on capitalism and patriarchy.


As part of our review series, Jennifer McDougall reviews "This Has Always Been a War: The Radicalization of Working Class Queer" by Lori Fox (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2022). Find a copy at your local bookstore, or online at Arsenal Pulp Press.

 

The war in Lori Fox’s first book is one waged quietly in wine tasting shops, grocery produce departments, domestic gardens, construction sites, ski villages, dining establishments and during family dinners at farmhouse tables across the country. In this invisible war, the winning side keeps the enemy powerless by advancing on them from every corner.

As a member of the working class, Fox openly outlines the realities of service and production environments. Fox is relentless in their criticism of landholders, employers, and the wealthy consumers who “don’t know they are rich.”


The opening chapter, “At Your Service,” suggests a model followed by Fox’s subsequent essays. Drawing from lived experience and the cost of living and financial compensation, Fox details, how particular sites of capitalism function to exploit human resources and prop up those in power. (Not all the sites Fox brings attention to are working spaces, one of these being the nuclear family.)


Fox openly outlines the realities of service and production industries and is relentless in their criticism of landholders, employers, and the wealthy consumers who “don’t know they are rich.”

Readers follow Fox as they cross the country multiple times in a number of barely-running vehicles, their furry companion, Herman, riding shotgun. Fox finds work in industries that stock the grocery shelves and market tables as they battle debilitating anxiety without a safety net. This Has Always Been a War not only unmasks the material struggles of unlivable wages, unsafe and exploitative labour practices, and inaccessible mental health care, readers are shown the emotional cost of hunger, insecure housing, poverty, and unstable seasonal employment. Fox skillfully shares personal incidents shaded by humiliation. These include: sexual harassment by employers and customers, expulsion from indoor facilities in favour of porta-potties and hosed drinking water, skepticism and revictimization by police officers, and the sheer loneliness that accompanies uncertainty about the future.

This Has Always Been a War not only unmasks the material struggles of unlivable wages, unsafe and exploitative labour practices, and inaccessible mental health care, readers are shown the emotional cost of hunger, insecure housing, poverty, and unstable seasonal employment.

Fox engages their audience with accessible language and is sure to galvanize readers who recognise these experiences of poverty and discrimination. For other readers, those who have sipped wine in BC, skied Whistler, dined in downtown Ottawa, or enjoyed market cherries and idly considered why the stems were still in place, Fox’s collection offers a thorough and thought-provoking education on the engines fueling their world.


Fox’s perceptive essays build towards the longest narrative in the collection, “Call You by Your Name,” an intensely personal recounting of a relationship with a fellow morel picker. Unlike the other chapters, a connection with the larger world is not immediately apparent because the scenes take place primarily in private spaces and in the backcountry. As the relationship devolves into a life-threatening situation, the imprint of capitalism and bigotry cripples these lovers and their future together. The consequences of their poverty pit them against one another as they suffer a cycle of alcoholism, shame, frustration, and violence. Yet, it is in this section that Fox’s prose is most tender by touching on the pleasures of living rough, geographically "away" from systemic anxieties--the “trinity of capitalism, patriarchy, and religion.” Fox identifies the beauty of the “small miracles of the backcountry” and the freedom in “expect[ing] things to work out, and [witnessing that] they always did.”

Yet, it is in this section that Fox’s prose is most tender by touching on the pleasures of living rough, geographically "away" from systemic anxieties--the “trinity of capitalism, patriarchy, and religion.”

In Fox’s view, literature is vital to the war on capitalism and patriarchy. They relate their economic and social positionality closely to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Kipling’s The Jungle Book. However, Fox offers scathing reviews of ten supposed feminist dystopian novels, criticizing their authors for excluding queer bodies and effectively narrowing their contribution to the feminist conversation. (Not even Margaret Atwood escapes. Calgary’s Larissa Lai, however, receives a gold star.)


Throughout Fox’s wry observations of the economy, they offer insight on where our broken society may go from here by underscoring precisely where the blind spots are; the spaces Fox can uniquely see into and articulate. They point out that “…poverty and mental health are about lack – lack of money, lack of dignity, lack of work, lack of meaning, lack of stability, lack of love. Treating them as separate issues ignores the fact that something is wrong with the way our system currently functions to create [them].” Despite every expectation to the contrary, Fox’s manifesto-like book ends peacefully with a personal epiphany they can action with gratitude as the battle rages on.


Like letters from a soldier fighting a distant war beyond our protected view, Lori Fox offers this collection of essays from the front lines. At turns darkly humourous and brutal, Fox is consistently frank and earnest in this essential contribution to equality discourse.


 

Jennifer McDougall is pursuing a Master’s degree in English at the U of C. Her program invites study and scholarship in both critical and creative fields. She is an alumna of the Haskayne School of Business and the Faculty of Arts’ English and Policial Science departments. Her thesis-in-progress is a novella about professional women leading change in Western Canada’s natural resource extraction industry and the entangled issues of resource stewardship, the physical and mental well-being of workers, corporate economic production, and responsible scientific and technological progress.

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