BIG OOF on this one! As I neared the end of this novel, I noticed a pull-quote on the cover that I originally didn’t pay attention to on account of being in an unappealing font to read (I’m weird about fonts, y’all, it’s part of my job after all). Upon actually looking at it, however, I saw that it was written by someone I very much don’t care for. So in retrospect, that might have been a clue that I wasn’t going to enjoy this novel for a few reasons. But let’s get on with the book!!
Bunny centers on a young woman named Samantha (Sam) who is in the final year of a highly selective writing MFA program. The only other members of her cohort in this program are a clique of four women who possess all the stereotypical “girly girl” traits you can imagine, but each with a slightly different style. They call each other Bunny and so, Sam calls them the Bunnies. These four women all seem to be operating on the same hivemind, and Sam hates them. Yet she is also fascinated by them, so when the girls open an invitation for her to join them in some of their weekly traditions, Sam ends up ditching her best friend, Ava, to be drawn into a strange and foggy new world. No, literally, the writing and plot and what exactly is going on is so foggy that I had a hard time keeping it all straight (but more on that later). But in any case it involves some dark magical elements that the Bunnies have found a way to tap into.
Overall, the story is trying to get at ideas about loneliness, about retreating into your own mind and fantasies rather than dealing with the real world and real people, and about the hurt of exclusion and feeling different. These are all concepts I can get behind, but sadly the execution here did nothing for me! In fact, all these themes seem to get forgotten amidst an overriding sense of nastiness in this book towards other women and characters.
I’m talking BIG “I’m nOt LikE otHeR giRLs!” energy here. Because the Bunnies are clearly representing those popular girls everyone hated in school, or the ones who were prettier and into the things that women are supposed to like. And this energy comes not just from the protagonist, but also from her friend Ava. Ava is supposed to be so important to Sam, and their relationship is central to the plot of the novel, yet despite Samantha telling us over and over how much fun they have chilling at the zoo or dance class or wherever, all we really see from Ava is her being cruel and berating Sam for wanting to not be excluded from her peers and about the school she goes to, etc.
The story is set in a graduate college program so that we understand that these characters are all adults, yet the whole thing feels very juvenile. I’ve read countless YA novels with more maturity than this one, even when taking into account the graphic details and language of Bunny at times. Those elements really just felt like they were included for the edginess factor™.
I understand having resentment towards people who seem to have it easier than you, and I also understand being distrusting of people who seem similar to those who may have wronged you in the past, but that’s not really what feels like is happening here. Because truly, what did these girls do to warrant this hatred? Why are there so many lines describing the sweet and saccharine things that the Bunnies like that come across as angry for no reason? What did cupcakes ever do to the author? (Seriously, there are so many mentions of cupcakes as if they are the epitome of all evil in the world. Sure sure, maybe they are a metaphor for things that are sweet but ultimately have no nutritional value, but I really don’t get that in this novel: I get simply thinking that because these girls like cupcakes, they MUST be bad).
What is really so wrong with the women that the Bunnies seem to be a parody of, despite the fact that maybe some people don’t fit in with them because they have different interests and values? Truly, the women’s desires seem to be that of exploring sexual fantasies and having control over how those fantasies manifest. We shouldn’t berate women for those things! The novel seems to be expressing that the Bunnies simply want to have a feeling of control and power, and are given elements of magic to do so. Yet, this magic taps out at a preoccupation with men. There are so many avenues to explore, and I cannot believe that this is where the buck stops. It’s all ultimately very judgemental in assuming that more “feminine” women are purely obsessed with men over everything else, and when finding a new form of power all they want to do is use it for male affection and will tear each other and their friendships apart over a crappy man. The novel really doesn’t have any more imagination than making the girly girls obsessed with men, while also trying to make them seem vapid and stupid for wanting some kind of control in situations that society tells us we should be preoccupied with. It’s complicated and hints at a deep resentment towards other women that perhaps the author was exploring in writing this. I am, however, also seeing reviews of Awad’s other work with some similar complaints regarding anger, resentment, and cruelties towards other women who seem to not be facing the same issues as the protagonist. It could be that this writing is very cathartic for Awad as an author, but unfortunately as a reader it comes across as bitter and makes me angry.
(I claim that this novel is hating other women, and in hating this book am I doing the same? Uhoh. I will have to think about that.)
On top of this nasty feeling tone, the writing could have made for a better experience. Yet, it doesn’t. So much of the writing is repetitive, confusing, and cryptic. In parts this makes sense in order to show a disorientation that Sam experiences with the Bunnies, but again it makes it hard to understand what’s happening as a ready. This also means that when certain revelations are supposed to happen, it doesn’t have the impact as desired because it takes too long to wrap around what is happening. It’s not just in parts of the novel where the protagonist is disoriented that I found understanding the novel to be difficult, either: the dialogue is so stilted and cryptic, it is incredibly frustrating to read. People don’t talk like this! And there is nothing that irritates me more than when people speak as if you know what’s going on when you clearly don’t or are trying to clarify, only to receive more riddles. I swear, most of the conversations are Sam asking questions and not getting answers, as if all will be revealed and yet, nothing is revealed. Truly, there is a line of this novel where one of the Bunnies is critiquing another’s writing work, and she says, “Tell me what happened! Tell me what the fuck this means […] exactly!” And frankly, I’m thinking the author should have listened to her own advice on this one.
Apparently this novel is a satire, but of what exactly? Of creative schools? Of feminine women? The satirizing is so heavy-handed that is makes the people not seem like real people or like well-thought out parodies at all: I’d say it’s less satire and more hackneyed cliches that don’t actually give us anything meaningful beyond stereotypes that people like to joke about when they have nothing better to say. Let’s not get into the writing that these women produce and the critiques they give either: it’s gobbledygoop that doesn’t mean anything and quite frankly, doesn’t add anything to the novel in any real way. You’d think being in an MFA for writing would mean the writing there would be more important to the plot but alas, it comes across as more of a basic setting.
Finally, I straight up don’t understand what anyone wanted in this novel. What was the point of the Bunnies and their magic? At some point in this novel they mention Sam experiencing mental health issues (which I also forgot about because it was such a throwaway line), but if this is all a manifestation of that, then wouldn’t that be more explicit or be more of a theme? I truly hate “it was all a dream/it was all in their heads” stories unless there is a purpose to it, you know? And here, well, I just can’t quite grasp what the point of anything was. Anything at all.
Honestly, the beginning of Bunny hooked me with promises of something interesting, but fell off track so quickly. I still needed to know what was going to happen in the end (again, to find out the point and to see if something worth ruminating over came together in the end), but sadly nothing in this book stuck the landing for me, and really just left a bitter taste in my mouth.