The Rabbit Factory: A Novel

The Rabbit Factory: A Novel

3.6 9
by Larry Brown

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In an ambitious narrative structure reminiscent of Robert Altman's classic film Nashville, Larry Brown weaves together the stories of a sprawling cast of eccentric and lovable characters, each embarked on a quest for meaning, fulfillment, and love — with poignant and uproarious results.
Set in Memphis and North Mississippi, The Rabbit Factory


In an ambitious narrative structure reminiscent of Robert Altman's classic film Nashville, Larry Brown weaves together the stories of a sprawling cast of eccentric and lovable characters, each embarked on a quest for meaning, fulfillment, and love — with poignant and uproarious results.
Set in Memphis and North Mississippi, The Rabbit Factory follows the colliding lives of, among others, Arthur, an older, socially ill-at-ease man of considerable wealth married to the much younger Helen, whose desperate need for satisfaction sweeps her into the arms of other men; Eric, who has run away from home thinking his father doesn't want him and becomes Arthur's unlikely surrogate son; and Anjalee, a big-hearted prostitute with her own set of troubles who crashes into the lives of the others like a one-woman hurricane.
Teeming with pitch-perfect creations that include quirky gangsters, colorful locals, seemingly straitlaced professors, and fast-and-loose police officers, Brown's spellbinding and often hilarious story is about the botched choices and missed chances that separate people — and the tenuous threads of love and coincidence that connect them. With all the subtlety and surprise of life itself, the story turns on a dime from comical to violent to moving. Masterful, profound, and full of spirit, The Rabbit Factory is literary entertainment of the highest order.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Brown skips from one story to the next as if out to prove the wisdom of those popular artists who depict the masks of comedy and tragedy overlapping. Small, dark ironies repeatedly afflict the lives of these ill-fated, downmarket characters, stay-at-home citizens and wayfarers alike. It isn't easy to keep a straight face when Brown jots down something like ''It was cold where Perk and what was left of Frankie lay in the dark and snowy woods.'' But amid the laughs, Brown is able to use this shuttling among the characters to depict a group of people crossing each other's zigzag paths but failing to affect one another in any way that could be remotely described as rewarding. ''Only connect,'' E. M. Forster advised. Otherwise, Brown seems to be suggesting, you could wind up in your own version of the rabbit factory. — David Finkle
Publishers Weekly
Grimly realistic, tragic-absurd and raunchy, Brown's latest novel returns to his deep South fictional territory and to the characters-poor, largely uneducated, hard-drinking, cigarette and dope smoking-that he portrays so well. This time he juggles a large cast with one thing in common: they're long-time losers whose paths intersect in or near Memphis. Arthur is nearly 70, impotent and fearful of losing his sexy younger wife, Helen. She tries to seduce teenaged Eric, a pet shop employee who fled his abusive father's rabbit factory-a metaphor for the uncaring world in which these people exist. Anjalee is a prostitute who smites the heart of Wayne, a navy boxer. Domino has survived a prison term and now works butchering meat for a gangster named Mr. Hamburger, who sells it to a man who owns lions. Trouble is, the body of one of Mr. Hamburger's victims turns up in the meat locker, which complicates Domino's extracurricular job dealing weed over the border in Mississippi. The plot includes several murders, lots of sex, domestic spats and plenty of action in bars. Even the violent scenes veer close to farce. Dogs figure prominently, one of them a pit bull named Jada Pickett. Miss Muffet, who is the housekeeper for one of the spoiled canines, has a plastic leg. Yet even with the advantage of Brown's keen eye for the absurdities of life and for the habits of people who live on the edge, the book fails to deliver the punch of his earlier works. Fay, his most accomplished novel to date, was darker, but one could identify with the protagonist. Here, the characters are all self-absorbed and incessantly whiny, and their obsessive rambling thoughts are recounted in numbing detail. Readers will understand well before the end that these sad lives will never go anywhere but down. Author tour. (Sept. 9) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fans of acclaimed Southern writer Brown (Joe; Dirty Work) will no doubt enjoy this new novel, though it is something of a departure. Celebrated for his gritty realism, poetic if rough-hewn language, and portrayal of rural, down-and-out Mississippians, Brown has written a warmer, gentler, more broadly humorous book about romantic love set mostly in Memphis. He expertly weaves together plots involving the tribulations of a group of likable but oddball people: wealthy, 70-year-old Arthur and his lusty young wife, Helen, who is on the verge of leaving him because he can no longer perform sexually; Arthur's surrogate son, Eric, who has fled his father's rabbit factory and has caught Helen's eye; and a young prostitute named Anjalee, who falls for a charming palooka. There is plenty of sex, violence, and heavy drinking, but in contrast to some of Brown's darker work, the superbly drawn narrative exhibits considerable generosity as well. Full of unexpected pleasures, this work is enthusiastically recommended for all libraries.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Relationships between people and animals and the hopes of both species that "love was out there for everybody, if they could just find it": these are the central issues in this Alabama author's relentlessly gritty latest. In and nearby contemporary Memphis, several vividly sketched lovers and losers are quickly set into motion, and conflict. Septuagenarian Mr. Arthur explores ways to keep and sexually satisfy his smoldering younger wife Helen, who turns her attentions toward Eric, a young pet-store employee whose most meaningful relationship is with his (male) pit bull Jada Pinkett. Anjalee, a goodhearted whore marked by a history of family abuse, commits assault, goes on the lam, and attracts the stupefied devotion of Wayne Stubbock, a pugilistically gifted young sailor. Meanwhile, ex-con Domino D'Adamo, whose interstate drug business is compromised by his murderous gangster boss, experiences three unfortunate run-ins with cops, one of them an importunate black Amazon named Penelope-who takes up with Dom's carjacking victim Merlot, a bachelor high-school teacher with a hidden secret love (named Candy). There's considerable pleasure in Brown's energetic deployment of these (really rather likable) grotesques, in a roiling, in-your-face melodrama whose comic-horrible details are variously reminiscent of Barry Hannah, Harry Crews, and the writer Brown most resembles: Erskine Caldwell. If the drumbeat momentum of his characters' compulsively self-destructive behavior (symbolized by the title metaphor, a reference to the past Eric yearns to escape) seems forced, Brown nevertheless springs a few refreshing surprises. And the multiple staggered climaxes go a long way toward qualifying andcontradicting what appears initially to be its rather generic naturalism. Brown's Fay (2000) remains his best-but it's good to see him extending his range. The Rabbit Factory has much to recommend it. Author tour. Agent: Liz Darhansoff
From the Publisher
John Freeman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution [H]is most entertaining book...This sexy novel goes down as easy as a six-pack in the hot days of summer.

Jeff Kunerth, The Orlando Sentinel A compelling tale of ordinary men and women trying to find each other through the smoke, booze, and lust.

Product Details

Free Press
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6.24(w) x 9.29(h) x 1.12(d)

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Chapter 1

The kitten was wild and skinny, and its tail looked almost broken, kind of hung down crooked. It had been around the neighborhood for several days, darting here and there, dodging traffic sometimes, and Arthur had been trying to catch it, setting the Havahart cage in the yard and baiting it with anchovies, but even though the kitten seemed desperately hungry, it would not enter the trap. It only sat and looked at the bait, and at them. But there was no big rush. Arthur had plenty of money and plenty of time to mess with stuff like that whenever he wasn't sitting in front of the big-screen TV watching westerns. Sometimes he dozed off.

He brought his coffee to the love seat where Helen was watching through the big bay window. Outside was late afternoon, cold and wind, a cloudy sky, no sun. A few cars passed out on South Parkway. She hadn't switched to whiskey yet, was just having some red wine so far, holding her glass in both hands. Arthur sat carefully down with her. Snow was dusting down in the yard, tiny flakes whirling in the chilly breezes. He could see it swirling across the street. It was cozy there next to her and he thought maybe he could get it up today, if he got the chance.

"I think it smells us," she said.

Arthur sipped his coffee and with her looked at the kitten. He kept thinking maybe he could find something that would occupy some of her time. He thought maybe she'd like a cat, so he was trying for one.

"What do you mean 'smells us'? We're in here. It's out there. How can it smell us?"

"I don't mean in here, silly. I mean maybe it smells us on the trap. Our scent."

Scent, Arthur mused. He guessed it was possible. Just about anything was possible, looked like. Even getting to be seventy. He'd charged the trap to his American Express card and he'd seen drinks from the Peabody bar again on last month's statement. She seemed to be going over there a lot lately. He tried to get her to always take cabs since the trouble with the police. Sometimes she did.

"Don't you know anything about trapping?" she said.

"Hm? No," said Arthur. "But I'll bet you do." She knew a bit of information about a lot of things. She could converse on different subjects. She could converse fluently on penile dysfunction. She'd read a booklet about it, and he thought she might have seen a television program about it as well. She could watch the bloodiest show on TV, The Operation, and he didn't want to be in the same room with it. He wondered where else she went to drink besides the Peabody. She never told him anything.

"Well," she said. "I read a book by somebody. Trappers have to cover their scent or the animals will smell them and go away. They have to boil their traps in wood ashes and things like that to remove their scent. They have to wear gloves, and if they're trapping something really smart, like a wolf or a coyote, they can't even touch the ground."

Arthur glanced at her. It was plain to anybody that she was a lot younger than him. He knew other men looked at her. He knew for a fact without having any way of proving it besides hiding in the lobby ferns and spying on her that she talked to strange men at the Peabody.

"Come on. How can they trap if they don't touch the ground?"

"They have to put down something to kneel on."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Some old sacks or something."

"Do they have to boil the sacks?"

"I don't know."

"You think we need to boil our trap?"

"I just think it smells us. Look at the way it keeps watching us."

Arthur watched the kitten watching them for a while.

"You don't even have a pot big enough to boil it in," he said. "That thing's two feet long. How about spraying some Lysol on it?"

Helen gave him her patient look and sipped her wine. He remembered a time when she'd clamp her lovely muscular thighs around his back like the jaws of a new bear trap. She'd be gasping, with her head thrown back and her mouth opening and closing and her fingers in his hair yanking, going, Oh my God, baby! That was a long time ago, true. Way back in Montana. Still.

"Be serious," she said.

"I am serious. I already bought some cat food, didn't I? I already spent fifty-two dollars and fifty cents for the trap, didn't I?"

They sat studying the kitten. It walked around the wire box, looked back at them, sniffed at the contraption. Finally it sat again in the dead grass and stared at the anchovies. Maybe its tail was just deformed.

"Looks like if it was hungry it would go on in there," Arthur said.

"It's got to be hungry. Look how skinny it is."

"How are you going to tame it down even if we catch it?"

"I'll cure it with kindness, I guess."

"What if it claws you? You ever been attacked by a cat?"

"No, but I know you have."

"They can be pretty vicious if they get mad."

"That's true."

"They can whip a grown dog if they make up their mind to."

"I've heard that."

"And if you get scratched, why then you've got that cat-scratch fever to worry about. Like in this Ted Nugent song I heard one time."

"Well, if I get scratched, I'll put some peroxide on it."

"Or alcohol," Arthur said, and sipped his coffee. They stayed there for a quiet period of time, just watching the kitten. Arthur looked at Helen, but Helen didn't look at him. He sat there a little longer. Her slip was sticking out just a bit past her knee. Arthur very smoothly moved his hand over to her knee. He didn't need any Viagra pill to schedule a hard-on for him. She just had to get him in the right mood.

"Now, now," she said, and flipped her skirt down and moved his hand. He returned his gaze to the kitten. It was all about blood, he thought. Pressure up, pressure down. He'd read somewhere that some guys had little rubber bivalves that had been surgically implanted and were hidden back behind their nuts. Pump it up, let it out, like an inner tube. He didn't even want to think about doing something like that to himself.

"I don't think it's going to let us catch it," he said. Damned if he hadn't gotten all upset again, thinking about how everything had turned out. "I think I'll go find a coffee shop and get some fresh ground." Helen didn't say anything. Maybe it was time for him to give it up. But it was hard to let go. So very hard to let go. Probably even when you got as old as old Mr. Stamp.

Copyright ©2003 by Larry Brown

Meet the Author

Larry Brown was the author of eight previous books. A recipient of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the University of North Carolina's Thomas Wolfe Prize, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, he passed away in 2004.

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The Rabbit Factory 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In the Memphis area, septuagenarian Arthur worries that his age and impotency will cost him his beautiful younger spouse, Helen. He looks into ways to keep her satiated but has good reason to believe in his nightmare because Helen attempts to seduce pet shop worker teenage Eric, who Arthur treats like his son. However, the lad fled the abuse of his father and his family¿s rabbit factory so struggles to relate to people with his best friend being Jada Pickett the pit bull............................. Anjalee the prostitute also is an abuse victim survivor, but surprisingly has a devoted follower sailor Wayne. Meanwhile Domino¿s illegal drug business is hampered by his murdering boss Mr. Hamburger, who sells meat to a lion owner. The cops remain interested in Domino¿s trafficking, making meatballs out of Mr. Hamburger, and Anjalee¿s wares. All will interact to a Bacon degree caused in some ways by fate near the Mississippi in a place where a lion, a whale, Jada, Mr. Hamburger¿s ¿guard dog¿ and others seem saner than these human zanies. ............................... THE RABBIT FACTORY is a weird but interesting character study that looks deep into the interactions of people trying to endure life; some of the cast blames fate and others, but never themselves for their predicament. The story line rotates the third person narrative amongst the ensemble, which adds to increased understanding of the motives of several of the players, but makes it a bit difficult to follow the action especially since stereotypes are stood on their heads in an allegorical way. Readers who appreciate a dark deep look at humanity will want to follow the antics of those destined to visit THE RABBIT FACTORY................................. Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a funny book with several things happening at once via parallel storylines. Things more or less tie up at the end and it's quite a ride, but don't expect to feel good when it's over.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As Brown himself has said, THE RABBIT FACTORY is quite different from his earlier novels. For one thing, it is far more comic--episode after episode in the novel, especiall those involving animals, are genuinely hilarious. With its broad spectrum of characters, the novel seems almost like a comic version of LES MISERABLES. Reflecting Flannery O'Connor's use of the grotesque, Brown creates a nurse, Miss Muffett, a woman with an artificial leg. She has HER leg stolen and buried by a feisty, ingenious dog. Brown has also shifted the setting of the novel: this one takes place in Memphis in the immediate present thought most of the characters have roots in north Mississippi. Most are the products of the same working class that Brown earlier depicted. In flashbacks throughout the novel, Brown returns to the rough, country settings of JOE, FATHER AND SON and FAY. Anjalee, Erick and Domino D'Alamo have left the limitations of rural life--including troubled families--'to seek their fortunes' in Memphis. They are not successful and by the end of this episodic, rather disconnected odyssey, are either dead or still looking for the economic and personal success that evaded them in their home state. The theme that connects this novel with the earlier ones is the essential humanity Brown imbeds in his characters, all of whom seek vital human connections in a world that offers too much sex and violence and too little warmth.