Awad, Mona. “Bunny: A Novel”, Viking, 2019.
An Outsider Among Bunnies
I was very lucky to be at a reading during which Mona Awad read the first chapter of “Bunny” and I realized that I had to read this book. It is the story of Samantha Heather Mackey, a total outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. She is a scholarship student who prefers her dark imagination to other people’s imaginations and cannot stand the others in her MFA program and this includes a “clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one.” But then Samantha gets an invitation to
the Bunnies’ “Smut Salon,” and is drawn to their front door—and getting rid of her only friend, Ava. As she enters the clique, Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ world and she begins to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they make up their monstrous creations and where the edges of reality become hazy. Her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be tested and “brought into deadly collision.”
Loneliness and belonging are two important aspects of love just as are friendship, desire and imagination and these are the themes that are explored here. This is a dark and twisted interrogation of the way women relate to each other and how these girls, the Bunnies, relate to academia, art and social class.
Awad is a clever writer and incorporates dark magic, terror and violence as we read of Samantha’s second year in the competitive and close-knit MFA program at Warren University. Samantha follows the Bunnies, real and imagined. Despite her writer’s block and unclear but clearly tense family background, or perhaps because of them, she is drawn into the world of the Bunnies and finds herself participating in their rituals while forgetting who she is and the importance of her friendship with Ava.
When a mysterious man named Max appears and begins a relationship with Ava, Samantha faces her terrible acceptance of the Bunnies’ deeds and the power of her own frightening imagination. By the end, it is up to us, the readers, to be able to discern fantasy from reality and the result of this is “a jarring and sensational look at the acceptance of oneself in the face of judgment, the potency of creative expression, and the secrets of fiction writers.”
This is a difficult book to review because it is so easy to give something away and it is especially interesting in how Awad balances very well the very funny with the very serious. Above everything else, “Bunny” seems to me to a caustic sendup of cliques and MFA programs. The characters who annoying and we definitely understand Samantha’s frustrations. The writing is funny and beautiful at the same time. I can see why there are those who will not like this novel but there are also those who will love it completely.