Remember in Mean Girls, when Lindsay Lohan’s character starts hanging out with the, um, mean girls? Initially, she does it as a kind of social experiment to see how the other half lives. Soon though, she’s sucked into their world of Burn Books, sexy Santa suits and pink-clad Wednesdays.
That’s a very tame version of what happens in Mona Awad’s new novel, Bunny. Her second book (after 2016’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl) is about how women feel about themselves and others...told through the eyes of five somewhat deranged college students.
Bunny opens on the idyllic campus of Warren University in New England. There are the requisite jokes about how uppity everyone is, and there’s a girl who seems to fit the outsider trope nicely: Samantha Heather Mackey. A scholarship student at the school’s highly selective MFA program, she’s goth-lite: moody, brooding and almost entirely friendless.
Much of Samantha’s ire is directed at the “Bunnies,” a group of four sickeningly twee rich girls who wear babydoll dresses and eat miniature foods and call each other—you guessed it—Bunny.
As in many a teen movie, Samantha is, for some reason, granted access to the group when she’s invited to one of their gatherings, a “Smut Salon.” That’s when Bunny starts to break from the Mean Girls mold. Sure, there are elements that might seem familiar (murder like Heathers! Occult-ish rituals like The Craft!), but Awad’s genius lies in her ability to take a familiar setup and turn it on its head—and then shake it and throw it off a cliff. That’s how twisted Bunny gets.
As Samantha ventures further and further down the Bunny hole (the Smut Salon is positively tame compared with the group’s “Workshops”), Awad blurs the line between reality and dark fairy-tale. It’s hazy and disorienting and creepy. There’s a fake prom and decapitations and yes, real-life bunnies. It’s like the Brothers Grimm went on an acid trip and made an ‘80s high school movie.
Mixing elements of satire and horror, Awad’s prose is grotesquely funny. Here’s how Samantha describes her repulsion at the Bunnies incessant embracing before joining their cult: “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 little heads. That they would choke on each other’s blandly grassy perfume.”
There’s a line Samantha says at the end of the novel that sums up the experience of reading Bunny pretty solidly: “And then I feel like screaming JUST SAY IT. TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED. TELL ME WHAT THE FUCK THIS MEANS."
I have no idea what I just read, but I can't stop thinking or talking about it. This is Bunny. It's nauseating, it's creepy and it's glorious.