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Mean Bunnies

Bunny

Mona Awad

2019

289 pages

in a nutshell Enrolled at an elite creative writing graduate program, Samantha should be on top of the world. Yet, she finds herself struggling with poverty, solitude - and bunnies. Some real bunnies but also the Bunnies, the rest of her cohort, four sickeningly sweet girlfriends who spend all their time cooing and hugging and calling each other ‘bunny’. Samantha, initially a resentful outsider, will discover that these girls do everything together, including a secretive workshop where more than just words are created. Animal lovers beware, the Bunnies (and Samantha) will get down to some disturbing creative experiments!

why? A bonkers plot revolving around a highly unusual cult group of bunny lovers.

flavour extract I am staring into the eyes of the one I call Cupcake. Because she looks like a cupcake. Dresses like a cupcake. Gives off a scent of baked lemony sugar. Pretty in a way that reminds you of frosting flourishes. Not the forest green and electric blue horrors in the supermarket, but the pastel kind that is used at weddings or tasteful Easter gatherings. She looks so much like a cupcake that when I first met her at orientation, I had a very real desire to eat her. Bite deeply into her white shoulder. Dig a fork in her cheek.

 

my take

I have recently discovered Bookstagram, and Bunny was one of my first finds there. I am very glad I went along this crazy ride of a novel. To clarify, 'crazy' this time is not an exaggeration. The novel belongs to the genre of campus novels, specifically satire, since it takes the mick out of creative writing courses (see the moody, sybilline professor who leads Samantha’s and the Bunnies’ workshop, as well as Samantha’s rock-and-roll tall dark adviser). See this brilliant passage:

I have said hello to no one. Not the poets who are their own fresh, grunty hell. Not the new incoming fiction writers who are laughing awkwardly by the shrimp tower. Not even Benjamin, the friendly administrator to whom I usually cling at these sorts of functions, helping him dollop quivering offal onto dried bits of toast. Not my Workshop leader from last spring, Fosco, or any other member of the esteemed faculty. And how was your summer, Sarah? And how’s the thesis coming, Sasha? Asked with polite indifference. Getting my name wrong always. Whatever response I offer—an earnest confession of my own imminent failure, a bald-faced lie that sets my face aflame—will elicit the same knowing nod, the same world-weary smile, a delivery of platitudes about the Process being elusive, the Work being a difficult mistress. Trust, Sasha. Patience, Sarah. Sometimes you have to walk away, Serena. Sometimes, Stephanie, you have to seize the bull by the horns. This will be followed by the recounting of a similar creative crisis/breakthrough they experienced while on a now-defunct residency in remote Greece, Brittany, Estonia. During which I will nod and dig my fingernails into my upper-arm flesh.

However, the mick is downright hurled away once Samantha is made privy to the other, non-academic workshop the Bunnies lead in turn - one where they transform innocent, actual flesh-and-blood bunnies into an ideal man, or at least an attempt at it. These men - “darlings”, “hybrids” or “drafts”, as they call them - are a way for the women to get what they want, what they deserve, someone telling them “You’re the daughter of Woolf”. Except for the fact that these bunny-men lack genitals and hands. This unorthodox workshop, however dubious, succeeds in drawing Samantha in and turning her into one of the Bunnies for a short period of time, until her inability to master the art of transformation has her cast out once again. I found this part of the novel very believable and well-written. The hatred and contempt Samantha feels for the Bunnies is so visceral and bodily that it can only mask an equally powerful but suppressed desire to belong. I deeply sympathised with Samantha. Let her who is without the secret wish to be a chum of the Mean Girls cast the first stone.


What I liked most about this novel - despite the times it made me feel perplexed and slightly exhausted - is that it does not follow conventional plot lines. Usually, narratives revolving around a young female character involve some kind of romance or professional achievement, as traditional novels of personal and artistic development (bildungs- and künstlerromans) do. In this case, however, Samantha lives in a world of echoing selves, that eventually allow her to get revenge rather than wisdom. At one point I was worried that the story had burrowed itself into the narrative hole of the outcast-boy-saves-outcast-girl kind of story; then I thought it might be a case of female-friendship-conquers-all; finally, dark-stranger-ruins-everything seemed the most probable scenario. In actuality, my expectations were all blown away when the nice boy fails to do one bit of saving, and the dark stranger as well the scary but loyal girlfriend turn out to be both embodied figments of Samantha’s imagination.


SPOILER ALERT! Yep, Max-the-dark-hunk is none other than a stag that Samantha, schooled in the art of transformation by the Bunnies, summons to act out her revenge against them - Max succeeds in making all the Bunnies crazily in love with him and they all start engaging in various forms of self-harm and mutual hatred (or did they hate each other all along?). Ava, Samantha’s best friend, also turns out to be none other than a solitary swan that solitary Samantha met at her favourite spot, once again working her magic unawares and turning her into her ideal friend - taller than tall Samantha, a fellow tango-lover, scary yet caring. The novel does afford some redemption, as by the end of the novel Samantha has managed to overcome crippling writer’s block and some sort of closure is achieved, yet at the same time the ending is open to interpretation. Is Samantha any the wiser? Was her delusion an actual mental illness, one the Bunnies shared? To cut it short, oh Bunny, why ask so many questions?

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