Eric Boss reviews BUNNY

Bunny by Mona Awad
ON SALE JUNE 11, 2019
Viking

Wow. Ouch. Wicked, wicked, wicked. Like a psychic punch in the gut. Delivered with a creepy faux sweetness that makes the whole even more disturbing. If you don’t get a serious visceral reaction to this book you must be sedated. Mona Awad’s first book 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize, longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, given Honorable Mention for the Arab American Book Award for Fiction, named one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2016 by Elle, Bustle, and the Globe and Mail, cited as one of the Best Books of the Month by Huffington Post, Bustle and Bookriot and was the winner of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. So.

This is a truly dark look at writing, the artist’s power to animate ideas, jealous academic rivalry and the generalized angst of the creative mind. Not too subtle jabs at programs designed to stimulate (as in waterboarding) developing author’s minds and the frightening potency of imagination illuminate this profoundly strange tale. Brilliant. Affecting. Unsettling. This is a brew not for the faint of heart, but immensely rewarding for those courageous enough to ride out the literary storm.

A graduate writing course at the fictitious Warren University, a prestigious institution located in a dysfunctional New England town where rumors of nocturnal beheadings and the insistent threat of crimes perpetrated by the disaffected locals flavors the prospect of any activities scheduled after dark is the backdrop for the story of Samantha Heather Mackey, a gangly, introspective writing student. She feels out of place in life, and more particularly in her classes, made tortuous by the “Bunnies” as they call each other, a group of privileged, self-indulgent young women who exceed the definition of the word “clique”. To her dismay she is invited to join their group, accepts and is engulfed in a surreal cloud of sinister exploration on the dark side of creative inspiration.

This is writing of an elevated level that simultaneously compels and repels in an exquisite kind of salty-sweet experience seldom encountered in the mundane world most of us inhabit. It is worthy of the most careful reading, noting every word, for there’s little wasted effort here. I can recommend it highly, but carefully, for it is strong stuff. This is an author of extraordinary talent.

Shelf Talker: What goes on in graduate writing programs at elite institutions of higher education? In this case, deeply dark doings. The academic maneuvering, jealousies and personal rivalries that are perhaps expected are nothing compared to what the protagonist finds in the company of the “Bunnies”, a group of young women whose forays into the inkiest corners of the creative soul are sinister, indeed.