It’s a phenomenon most young women have experienced: the group of female friends so close and comfortable with each other it borders on obsessive. So focused are they on passive aggressively complementing one another they often fail to acknowledge anyone else who has the distinct displeasure of being in the same room. They hug and squeal and frolick so aggressively it’s at once endearing and completely disgusting. You never really know if you want to join them or kill them. If you’ve ever been on the inside of one of these groups you’ve probably felt the cultish urge to do everything together.
Samantha Heather Mackey, the self-deprecating protagonist of Mona Awad’s new novel Bunny, finds herself wrapped up in this kind of female friendship dynamic in the second year of her graduate MFA program at the East Coast’s prestigious Warren University. Her fiction cohort is made up of four girls who, rather troublingly, refer to one another as Bunny and wear aggressively girly pastel outfits and elaborate braided hairdos. Initially repulsed by their child-like behaviour, Samantha finds herself drawn into their strange world, abandoning her only real friend in the process. As it turns out, the Bunnies’ world isn’t all about cute things and rainbows, and instead involves frightening rituals and a secret project that might end up involving murder. The Bunnies are, as Awad aptly describes, “four rabid dolls come to life.”
Bunny is hysterically funny in the bleakest way. It explores all of the unpleasant realities of university campus life - the abject poverty of many students and upsetting student-teacher power dynamics - all while delivering a plot that’s wholly original and undeniably exciting. Horror and comedy combine to create an atmospheric, perfectly executed novel about real-world problems. Samantha, whose mother is dead and father is absent, is drawn to the Bunnies because of their wealth and lavish lifestyles. Her desire to be part of their world is uncomfortable, mostly because she refuses to admit to herself that she’s after the beauty and perfection they so effortlessly put on display. The obsessive, problematic, glitter-fueled friendship she develops with the Bunnies is juxtaposed against her squalid living conditions and utter lack of self confidence.
If Bunny’s striking settings and character descriptions feel impossibly real, it’s likely because they are. Awad completed an MFA at Brown University before publishing the book, and it seems she’s channelled her frustrations about fellow student’s fake praise and absurd practices into her novel. Bunny is not only a critique of women consumed by “an endlessly entitled fury that will drive them toward the shiny pretty things of this world and not stop until they have claimed them,” but of the establishment that offers these kinds of people special treatment. Universities, particularly elite ones, are breeding grounds for bad behaviour. Students who come from incredible wealth often refer to themselves as broke, and those who come from nothing have to spend every waking moment pretending they don’t. Samantha may be a fictional character, but her plight - and the lengths she goes to in order to hide it - are incredibly real.
Bunny is, as Ann Bauer of The Washington Post perfectly put it, “deliciously evil.” It’s vivid and descriptive and unputdownable. It’s like a mashup between The Heathers, The Secret History and Jennifer’s Body. I’d also argue that it’s the perfect back-to-school read.