"A wild, audacious and ultimately unforgettable novel." —Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times
"Awad is a stone-cold genius." —Ann Bauer, The Washington Post
The Vegetarian meets Heathers in this darkly funny, seductively strange novel from the acclaimed author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
"We were just these innocent girls in the night trying to make something beautiful. We nearly died. We very nearly did, didn't we?"
Samantha Heather Mackey couldn't be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England's Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohorta clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other "Bunny," and seem to move and speak as one.
But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies' fabled "Smut Salon," and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front doorditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies' sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus "Workshop" where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.
The spellbinding new novel from one of our most fearless chroniclers of the female experience, Bunny is a down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, friendship and desire, and the fantastic and terrible power of the imagination.
Named a Best Book of 2019 by TIME, Vogue, Electric Literature, and The New York Public Library
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.
What did you do last night, Bunny?
I hung out with you, Bunny. Remember, Bunny?
That’s right, Bunny, you hung out with me and it was the best time I ever had.
Bunny, I love you. I love you, Bunny.
And then they hug each other so hard I think their chests are going to implode. I would even secretly hope for it from where I sat, stood, leaned, in the opposite corner of the lecture hall, department lounge, auditorium, bearing witness to four grown women—my academic peers—cooingly strangle each other hello. Or good‑bye. Or just because you’re so amazing, Bunny. 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.
I quietly prayed for the hug implosion all year last year. That their ardent squeezing might cause the flesh to ooze from the sleeves, neckholes, and A‑line hems of their cupcake dresses like so much inane frosting. That they would get tangled in each other’s Game of Thrones hair, choked by the ornate braids they were forever braiding into each other’s heart‑shaped lit‑ tle heads. That they would choke on each other’s blandly grassy perfume.
Never happened. Not once.
They always came apart from these embraces intact and unwounded despite the ill will that poured forth from my staring eyes like so much comic‑ book‑villain venom. Smiling at one another. Swinging clasped hands. Skins aglow with affection and belonging as though they’d just been hydrated by the purest of mountain streams.
Bunny, I love you.
Completely immune to the disdain of their fellow graduate student. Me. Samantha Heather Mackey. Who is not a Bunny. Who will never be a Bunny.
I pour myself and Ava more free champagne in the far corner of the tented green, where I lean against a white Doric pillar bedecked with billowing tulle. September. Warren University. The Narrative Arts department’s annual welcome back Demitasse, because this school is too Ivy and New England to call a party a party. Behold the tigerlily‑heavy centepieces. Behold the Christmas‑lit white gauze floating everywhere like so many ghosts. Behold the pewter trays of salmon pinwheels, duck‑liver crostini topped with little sugared orchids. Behold the white people in black discussing grants they earned to translate poets no one reads from the French. Behold the lavish tent under which the overeducated mingle, well versed in every art but the one of conversation. Smilingly oblivious to the fact that they are in the mouth of hell. Or as Ava and I call it, the Lair of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a giant squid monster invented by a horror writer who went insane and died here. And you know what, it makes sense. Because you can feel it when you’re walking down the streets beyond the Warren Bubble that this town is a wrong town. Something not quite right about the houses, the trees, the light. Bring this up and most people just look at you. But not Ava. Ava says, My god, yes. The town, the houses, the trees, the light— it’s all fucked.
I stand here, I sway here, full of tepid sparkling and animal livers and whatever hard alcohol Ava keeps pouring from her Drink Me flask into my plastic cup. “What’s in this again?” I ask.
“Just drink it,” she says.
I observe from behind borrowed sunglasses as the women whom I must call my colleagues reunite after a summer spent apart in various trying locales such as remote tropical islands, the south of France, the Hamptons. I watch their fervent little bodies lunge for each other in something like rapture. Nails the color of natural poisons digging into each other’s forearms with the force of what I keep telling myself is feigned, surely feigned, affec‑ tion. Shiny lips parting to call each other by their communal pet name.
“Jesus, are they for real?” Ava whispers in my ear now. She has never seen them up close. Didn’t believe me when I first told her about them last year. Said, There is no way grown women act like that. You’re making this up, Smackie. Over the summer, I started to think I had too. It is a relief in some ways to see them now, if only to confirm I am not insane.
“Yes,” I say. “Too real.”
I watch her survey them through her fishnet veil, her David Bowie eyes filled with horror and boredom, her mouth an unimpressed red line.
“Can we go now?”
“I can’t leave yet,” I say, my eyes still on them. They’ve pulled apart from one another at last, their twee dresses not even rumpled. Their shiny heads of hair not even disturbed. Their skins glowing with health insurance as they all crouch down in unison to collectively coo at a professor’s ever jumping shih tzu.
“I told you, I have to make an appearance.”
Ava looks at me, slipping drunkenly down the pillar. I have said hello to no one. Not the poets who are their own fresh, grunty hell. Not the new incoming fiction writers who are laughing awkwardly by the shrimp tower. Not even Benjamin, the friendly administrator to whom I usually cling at these sorts of functions, helping him dollop quivering offal onto dried bits of toast. Not my Workshop leader from last spring, Fosco, or any other member of the esteemed faculty. And how was your summer, Sarah? And how’s the thesis coming, Sasha? Asked with polite indifference. Getting my name wrong always. Whatever response I offer—an earnest confession of my own imminent failure, a bald‑faced lie that sets my face aflame—will elicit the same knowing nod, the same world‑weary smile, a delivery of platitudes about the Process being elusive, the Work being a difficult mistress. Trust, Sasha. Patience, Sarah. Sometimes you have to walk away, Serena. Sometimes, Stephanie, you have to seize the bull by the horns. This will be followed by the recounting of a similar creative crisis/breakthrough they experienced while on a now‑defunct residency in remote Greece, Brittany, Estonia. During which I will nod and dig my fingernails into my upper‑arm flesh.
And obviously I haven’t talked to the Lion. Even though he’s here, of course. Somewhere. I saw him earlier out of the corner of my eye, more maned and tattooed than ever, pouring himself a glass of red wine at the open bar. Though he didn’t look up, I felt him see me. And then I felt him see me see him see me and keep pouring. I haven’t seen him since then so much as sensed him in my nape hair. When we first arrived, Ava felt he must be nearby because look, the sky just darkened out of nowhere.
This evening, all I have done in terms of socializing is half smile at the one the Bunnies call Psycho Jonah, my social equivalent among the poets, who is standing alone by the punch, smiling beatifically in his own antidepressant‑fueled fever dream.
Ava sighs and lights a cigarette with one of the many tea lights that dot our table. She looks back at the Bunnies, who are now stroking each other’s arms with their small, small hands. “I miss you, Bunny,” they say to each other in their fake little girl voices, even though they are standing right fucking next to each other, and I can taste the hate in their hearts like iron on my tongue.
“I miss you, Bunny. This summer was so hard without you. I barely wrote a word, I was so, so sad. Let’s never ever part again, please?”
Ava laughs out loud at this. Actually laughs. Throws her feathery head
back. Doesn’t bother to cover her mouth with her gloved hand. It’s a delicious, raucous sound. Ringing in the air like the evening’s missing music.
“Shhhhh,” I hiss at her. But it’s already done.
The laughter causes the one I call the Duchess to turn her head of long, silver faery‑witch locks in our direction. She looks at us. First at Ava. Then at me. Then at Ava again. She is surprised, perhaps, to see that for once I’m not alone, that I have a friend. Ava meets her look with wide‑open eyes the way I do in my dream stares. Ava’s gaze is formidable and European. She continues to smoke and sip my champagne without breaking eye contact. She once told me about a staring contest she had with a gypsy she met on a metro in Paris. The woman was staring at her, so Ava stared back—the two of them aiming their gazes at each other like guns—all the way across the City of Lights. Just looking at each other from opposite shores of the rattling train. Eventually Ava took off her earrings, still not taking her eyes off the woman. Why? Because her assumption at that point, of course, was that the two of them would fight to the death. But when the train pulled into the last stop on the line, the woman just stood to exit, and when she did so, she even held back the sliding doors politely, so Ava could go first.
What’s the lesson here, Smackie? Don’t jump to conclusions?
Never lower your gaze first.
The Duchess, in turning toward us, causes a ripple effect of turning among the other Bunnies. First Cupcake looks over. Then Creepy Doll with her tiger eyes. Then Vignette with her lovely Victorian skull face, her stoner mouth wide open. They each look at Ava, then at me, in turn, scanning down from our heads to our feet, their eyes taking us in like little mouths sipping strange drinks. As they do, their noses twitch, their eight eyes do not blink, but stare and stare. Then they look back at the Duchess and lean in to each other, their lip‑glossed mouths forming whispery words.
Ava squeezes my arm, hard.
The Duchess turns and arches an eyebrow at us. She raises a hand up. Is there an invisible gun in it? No. It’s an empty, open hand. With which she then waves. At me. With something like a smile on her face. Hi, her mouth says.
My hand shoots up of its own accord before I can even stop myself. I’m waving and waving and waving. Hi, I’m saying with my mouth, even though no sound comes out.
Then the rest of the Bunnies hold up a hand and wave too.
We’re all waving at one another from across the great shores of the tented green.
Except Ava. She continues to smoke and stare at them like they’re a four‑headed beast. When at last I lower my hand, I turn to her. She’s look‑ ing at me like I’m something worse than a stranger.
Reading Group Guide
An Introduction to Bunny by Mona Awad
We were just these innocent girls in the night trying to make something beautiful. We nearly died. We very nearly did, didn’t we?
Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her ction-writing cohort—a secretive clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other Bunny, and are often found entangled in a group hug so tight they become one.
Samantha’s only friend, Ava, a caustic art school dropout, wouldn’t be caught dead with the Bunnies, whose cultish friendship she considers the ultimate, warped embodiment of the university itself: a haven for the grossly privileged to make narcissistic, trivial art. But Samantha—lonely, insecure, and creatively blocked— perversely longs for their approval and acceptance, even if she can’t admit it. So when she receives a shimmering, heart-smattered invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled Smut Salon in the mail, Samantha’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she finds herself irresistibly drawn to their front door—ditching Ava in the process. As the night progresses, she discovers that the Bunnies’ inner universe is far darker and more bizarre than she or Ava could have ever imagined.
As if in a trance, Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world. Before long, she is allowed to partake in their ritualistic off-campus where she watches in horror as the Bunnies magically conjure one of their hybrid “Drafts”—a gruesome, volatile process that tests the limits of their collective creativity and ambition. The more time she spends with the Bunnies, and the further she drifts from her and Ava’s usual routine, the more the edges of reality seem to blur. Soon they will lose control of one of their monstrous creations—and Samantha’s friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.
A spellbinding, down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, creativity and agency, and friendship and desire, Bunny is the dazzlingly original second book from Mona Awad, one of our most fearless and inventive chroniclers of the female experience.
1. The Bunnies embody one vision of all-consuming female friendship, in which women subordinate their individuality and agency in order to be absorbed by the powerful hive mind of the clique and be offered its protection. Their interactions are portrayed as sickeningly (and comically) saccharine and supercial, but also strangely seductive, as Samantha discovers when the intensity of their collective gaze becomes an irresistible alternative to the loneliness of being an outsider in her program. Did aspects of Samantha’s encounters with the Bunnies remind you of experiences in your own life? What do their interactions reveal about the roles vulnerability, cruelty, and desire have to play in friendship, in general, and female friendship, in particular?
2. Discuss Samantha and Ava’s relationship dynamic. Is it a mature, refreshing alternative to the Bunnies’ treacly affection and codependence, or can their bond also be read as unhealthy in its own way? How do Samantha and Ava perform for each other? What is each seeking from the other as their relationship evolves? What questions were provoked or resolved by the ending?
3. Bunny parodies the culture of an MFA program at an elite, coastal university, amplifying the jargon, camaraderie, posturing, and insularity of the institution to surreal and grotesque extremes. What details did you nd especially effective or poignant in the satire? How do you think the characters’ creativity is shaped by the (both on- and off-campus) workshop environment? Did these characterizations resonate with any of your real-life experiences?
4. What do you make of the Bunnies’ “Drafts,” the violent conceptions behind them, and the specic ways in which they arrive incomplete and repeatedly come undone? What do these constructions reveal about the psychologies and artistic processes of their creators?
5. The world of Bunny becomes increasingly eccentric, fantastical, and hallucinatory as the novel progresses, with cult teen movie and horror tropes woven throughout. How do these genre elements relate to the larger themes of the novel and influence your perception of the central conflicts? Is it possible for disorienting settings and scenes to produce emotional clarity? What is the power and purpose of blurring the boundaries of reality in storytelling?
6. What do you think about Max, his relationship with Ava, and his manipulation of the Bunnies?
7. Finally, how would you characterize Samantha’s personal transformation over the course of the novel? What kind of work do you think she’ll go on to create in the future?