Surreal extremes in a high school tale of money, death and hive-mind madness.
Imagine teen-dramas Mean Girls and Heathers mashed with TV’s Scream Queens or Buffy and then located in Sunnydale or Pretty Little Liars’ Riverdale. Call it Warren, as in rabbit, and give the town a high-crime rate where muggings, violent assaults, rapes and random decapitations are common and the large underclass population is addicted to opiates, cheap alcohol and bad food. Then pop an Ivy League university in the middle with the immediately surrounding streets reeking of money, opulent shops, chic eateries and good taste. Then add some bunnies to the mix…
The Bunnies, the villains of this surreal preppy horror story, are four child-like hyper-feminine teenage-girl-women with a Borg-like hive group-think. Teen psycho bitches with sharp minds and even sharper claws who call each other Bunny and think and act as one.
How fiercely they gripped each other’s pink-and-white bodies, forming a hot little circle of such rib-crushing love and understanding it took my breath away. And then the nuzzling of ski-jump noses, peach fuzzy cheeks. Temples pressed against temples in a way that made me think of the labial rubbing of the bonobo or the telepathy of beautiful, murderous children in horror films. All eight of their eyes shut tight as if this collective asphyxiation were a kind of religious bliss. All four of their glossy mouths making squealing sounds of monstrous love that hurt my face.
I love you, Bunny.
The narrator whose face hurt is Samantha Heather Mackey a fellow graduate who is very definitely not a Bunny. Lonely, poor, creative, angst-ridden and excluded from the other students in her literary workshop, the four inclusive Bunnies, who she hates and despises but at the same time yearns to belong and be accepted by. She also has one main friend – or lover? – an art school dropout and hideously woke hipster girl called Ava who has the sides of her head shaved and wears lace-mesh gloves ripped tights and some sort of veil. While I describe her as hideous I think that Awad likes her and sees her as Samantha’s white knight against the Bunnies who, much to Samantha’s surprise and horror, invite her to one of their ’Smut Salons’, that was their ‘own private Bunny thing…something they’d talk about in low voices’.
Against Ava’s advise and her own judgement she goes…
So far so fabulous but Bunny soon morphs from the slightly surreal to a full-on Daliesque nightmare in which real rabbits explode and boys are axed to death and the reader is left wondering what the hell is going on? Yet to an extent it works, essentially because Awad is such a good writer that she is able to hold our attention as Samantha’s angst and writer’s block interplay with the Bunnies and Bunny-boys of her warped imaginings.
In many ways, Bunny infuriates because for half the novel it is simply brilliant and that brilliance is the Bunnies who are clever, stylish, sexy, funny and very ’dangerous’. Samantha names them Cupcake, Creepy Doll, Vignette, ‘with her lovely Victorian skull face’ and the Duchess, who etches her poetry onto glass. These are the stars of Bunny who sadly become increasingly lost to us as Awad lets her surreal descriptions of Samantha’s mental meanderings and Id-like projections take over as she struggles with her thesis.
I say this not as a criticism but as a regret because I really enjoyed this novel, which is fabulously wicked and, in places, very funny, but it could and should be, so much more. I want more of the Bunnies and it seems I am not alone in wanting more as AMC, the media group behind Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, has just acquired the rights to develop Bunny into a TV series.
Perhaps the Bunnies explain this novel best.
They smile that tsk-tsk smile again. Shake their heads.
“Samantha we’re at Warren. The most experimental, ground-breaking school in the country.
This goes way beyond genre. It subverts the whole concept of genre.”
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