Thorpe, Rufi. “The Knockout Queen”, Knopf, 2020.
Rufi Thorpe’s “The Knockout Queen” takes readers to the California suburbs and to a darkly comical story about friendship, the struggle to exist in our bodies, and just what it means to be good.
Michael sees Bunny Lampert as the Princess of the North Shore. He watches her at school and through the windows of his aunt’s house (where he lives next door), When he’s caught hiding out in Bunny’s side yard smoking a cigarette, they become best friends almost against his will. Michael is not the kind to open up, but he and Bunny begin to bond over shared secrets—they were both raised in abusive homes, have troubled relationships with their parents, complicated relationships with their sexuality. There are certain things that they do not share. Bunny can’t stand what she looks like and what she might be physically capable of, and Michael meets men on Craig’s List for anonymous secret sexual encounters. When Michael falls in love for the first time, vicious gossip circulates and a horrible and brutal act comes to define his and Bunny’s futures and friendship. They are suddenly forced into the adulthood that neither is ready for.
This is a dark and comic meditation on moral ambiguity. We have no victims and no heroes. Everyone is innocent and everyone is culpable and no one is absolved. We see brutality and kindness. This is a coming-of-age story that is replete with heartbreak, honesty and hope. It is a
novel “about unruly thoughts and unruly bodies, about violence and love, about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and the drag of human being.”
Thorpe examines friendship and what connects us and she does so through detail and dark humor. Michael and Bunny are unique and are wonderfully drawn and leave strong impressions on the reader.
I was often unsettled by what I read here but in a good way because I was forced into thinking about violence, beauty, and privilege. We see the pain involved in changing friendships and it is uncomfortable. Thorpe writes wonderful descriptions and gets into the inner feelings of her characters. We read of “an unlikely high school friendship with intensity and attentiveness” and in doing so we get a good look at ourselves.