Bunny, by Mona Awad

My name is Octoclot, and I read literary fiction. I read more literary fiction than genre fiction. I’m a snob and I’m not sorry. That said, there’s nothing better than sinking my tentacles into the juicy unicorn that is the literary genre novel, and Bunny fits that bill perfectly.

I’d read Awad’s previous novel, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, and didn’t much like it. So I wouldn’t have read Bunny if I hadn’t attended a reading and fallen in love with Awad’s voice. Seriously smooth. I’d also recently read The Secret History (yes, I’m late to most parties), and the parallels intrigued me. I mean, Bunny.

Samantha is a scholarship student enrolled in a creative writing program at an elite liberal arts university (shades of Tartt and Ellis). Desperately poor and lonely, she’s recruited into a cult of beautiful women in her workshop that dress like little girls, eat miniature food, hug for hours, braid each other’s hair, and call each other Bunny.

Naturally, a cruel obsession lurks beneath the glossy cupcake frosting. In an MFA program fixated on the concept of ‘the body’, deconstructing it in their workshop to the point of meaninglessness, the Bunnies have summoned the power to create life, to create a boy, from a bunny. Though not exactly boys, they’re rough work, malformed drafts. Built to serve until required to ponder a sense of self and then they unravel (or explode, in the more gruesome scenes). They seem to think that Samantha, their unrefined, emotionally wooden newbie, has what it takes to do better, to create a real boy.

In this bizarre story described as The Secret History meets Mean Girls, the juxtaposition of the saccharine with the sinister evokes a dreamlike dread that’s hard to shake. Samantha is more disturbed that you think. The Bunnies, more hollow. The drafts, more calamitous. Make no mistake, this is a horror novel, an erotic horror novel, masquerading as literary fiction.

One of my favourite things about Bunny is the mythic references. We’ve got swans, lambs, wolves, and rabbits. The best part is the complete lack of subtlety. I mean, they go to Warren College for Christ’s sake, and there is almost literally a big bad wolf. Lit fic values nothing so much as metaphorical murk and obfuscation, and to see it explicitly splashed across the page in such an outsized way is terrifically fun. She also refers to poets as Lizard People. Seriously Mona, I feel seen.

And the end, oh the end! No spoilers, but the climax bricked me right in the heart. Let’s just say there are worse things than someone you love dying. And the more beautiful the lie, the more tragic the truth.

For this reader, Bunny was not about mean girls. Or classism. Or the ridiculousness of MFA culture. It’s about desire and loneliness, and the lengths we’ll go just to be loved. Without sentimentality, Awad suggests that perhaps that’s all we’re made for.


Wounds, by Nathan Ballingrud

An unsettling collection of the dark fantastic starting off with a jaunt through the swamps to retrieve a terrifying artifact of Hell and ending up in the water again with a historical pirate novella tying off the collection. First off, I love short stories. I love ‘em. Horror lends itself particularly well to the short form and this collection is a solid example of why shorts rule and novels drool (and I say that as a novelist, so take it with a pillar of salt). Secondly, as with any collection, I had favourites and less favourites, but overall, Wounds is tight.

“Atlas of Hell” has moments of visceral dread at an intensity I’ve rarely felt in fiction, and the imagery in this story absolutely kills. “Visible Filth” (recently adapted to film) is body and tech horror in one. I’ve never found the idea of “angels among us” to be of much comfort and now I know why. Yuck. My favourite of the bunch was “Skullpocket”. One of those gems where you spend most of the story wondering what the damn hell is going on and slowly, so slowly, like stitches ripping out one at a time, you get it. Giving details would ruin the magic; I’ll only say that particularly in “Skullpocket” and “The Diabolist”, Nathan Ballingrud reads like nihilist Neil Gaiman and I am 100% here for it. At the same time, there’s tenderness in these stories. Between parents and children, childhood friends, struggling lovers, even strangers thrown together by desperate circumstance as in “The Maw”.

Horror is tricky. It needs to check a lot of boxes to work, and Wounds pulls it off. These stories are not keep your light on at night scary. They’re look over your shoulder in the middle of the day and wonder what dark worlds are rubbing against the skin of our own. If you’re a fan of horror and wonder in equal suffocating measure, you’ll love this book.