Dear Felicity —
My darling, my chickpea burger. I recently read a deliciously evil novel called “Bunny” that feels just a tad too familiar. I wonder if perhaps you’ve been betraying our sisterhood and telling stories — literally — out of school? You know I love you madly, but that would be a serious breach of workshop etiquette. So I think it’s time we get a few things straight.
Didn’t you meet Mona Awad at a writer’s conference in 2017? Maybe you two got to talking one night. She was writing this story about the MFA program at Brown — which she cleverly calls Warren in the book (get it? the place where rabbits live). But anyone who’s ever been to Providence will recognize the rancidly erotic river corners where wolfmen wear glitter and carry axes while they wait for the bus.
We’ve all done it, right? The thinly veiled roman à clef, sending up our fellow MFA writers with their affectations, shrieking praise and endless prose poems. But Mona Awad’s account feels too strikingly realistic. Among the preening, privileged student writers Awad calls the Bunnies is a character nicknamed the Duchess who carves her “proems” into glass. Hmmm, not unlike the deconstructed mosaic essay on watercolor that Darcy kept foisting on us back in 2001.
The narrator, Samantha Heather Mackey, is just so me. Sad family history, utter lack of fashion sense, irrational lust for broken people. Her stories won the department scholarship but in workshop, when she’s actually in the room, everyone loathes them. They’re so lame and conventional; her readings are followed by long pauses of disdain. Can you still hear that silence? I can.
But years have passed and I’m over it! The pregnant vampire Halloween party at Meredith’s that I wasn’t invited to? The time that visiting writer from Ireland picked up my piece between her thumb and forefinger like it was a stinky scat sample? The editor from FSG who told me I should consider a non-writing career? I’m. So. Over. It.
I see your betrayal here. You fed this award-winning authoress all our stories so she could mix them into the stew. And by “stew” of course, I mean those zombie soul-killing all-female cohort workshop sessions; that aggressively nice, moppy-haired lyric poet who followed us around like Napoleon Dynamite; the gnarled department chair who bellowed that we had to dig deeper and kill our darlings. Sure, Awad added a real-life Leda, a few bloody bunny explosions and some incredibly creepy-yet-hot sex with golems conjured from the guts. Who cares?
Gotta admit, Awad is a stone-cold genius line by line. Visceral. Spare. Descriptions so accurate they feel invasive; like she reached in and grabbed the smartest darkest thought inside your head. The Duchess grips Samantha’s hand during a reading “as if she’s seeing [her] through a birth.” When the perfect Bunny girls stare at Samantha and her secret crush, Ava, she writes about “their eyes taking us in like little mouths sipping strange drinks.” Samantha’s ex had a slow, sexy voice she describes so perfectly it can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but believe me it’ll make you hot. Girl knows her way around a metaphor.
But if there’s one thing wrong with “Bunny”— and thank goodness there is one thing wrong with glorious Mona Awad’s starred Kirkus novel — it’s that it relies too heavily on genre tropes. (Which is kind of funny, because that’s absolutely the sort of pretentious thing these characters would say.) Fairy tale. Horror. Satire. Metafiction. Each one is cleverly layered into “Bunny” with cheeky references to “Carrie,” “Heathers,” Greek myths and Disney princess flicks. It can be a bit much.
Listen, Felicity. You know I adore you, but this “Bunny” treachery? It’s wrong, honeybear. I know wolfmen with axes too. Pay attention next time you’re taking one of those restorative moonlight walks. The truth will come back to slice through your skinny neck.
A thousand kisses —
Ann Bauer is the author of “The Forever Marriage” and other books.
By Mona Awad
Viking. 305 pp. $26