by Mona Awad
image of Bunny book
You know when you’re watching a movie and things start to get crackly and echoey to indicate that you're experiencing an alternate reality? (Have you seen Don’t Worry Darling?) That’s what this book is. 'Bunny' by Mona Awad is surrealist literature. It is the modern-day Frankenstein. The hook is loneliness and the object is desire.

Samantha is a young woman in her final year of grad school, a writer (which is a trope I am somehow never able to escape in today’s popular literature — I guess you have to write about what you know — but one that was surprisingly not an eyeroll this time). She is working on her thesis and suffering through the presence of the four girls in her cohort: Eleanor, Caroline, Kira, and Victoria. These girls refer to one another as ‘bunny’ and giggle constantly through their speech like sorority sisters, their every adjective punctuated by the lackluster ‘so’: so creepy, so scary, soooo cute. Samantha refers to them internally as The Duchess, Cupcake, Creepy Doll, and Vignette, respectively. She despises their family money and saccharine communication style and childlike attitudes.

Samantha’s imagination keeps her high off the ground of real life and at a distance from the bunnies. It’s the tree she climbs to retreat from her loneliness, where she can create an inner reality for herself and build universes that keep her safe. Her only friends are Ava, a subversive gypsy who dresses like Madonna in the 80s and lives in town, and Jonah, a fellow master’s student who in my mind is trait-for-trait just Jacob from Abbott Elementary.

The bunnies invite Samantha over one night. She is hesitant to go. Her hatred for these girls runs deep, but she’s so lonely. When she attends, the bunnies’ sorority-like behavior turns cultish. Samantha’s mental acuity is challenged with ever-flowing alcohol and mysterious tic-tac-looking pills throughout the night as the bunnies draw out story after story from her. She is overserved and oversharing.

The magnitude of 'Bunny' relies on Samantha’s unacknowledged loneliness. She’s in love with her own outsiderness. The bunnies’ one melted, collective identity that feels threatening in the classroom is desperately desired once she receives an invitation to be part of it. In Samantha’s visit to The Duchess’ house, we find out that the bunnies have a dark, twisted ritual: they summon humanity into existence in the name of expression. These expressions, these Drafts and Darlings as the bunnies refer to them, are men. Men with slightly deformed facial features and missing appendages. They are gleaned from the bunnies’ memories and experiences with men, physical details extrapolated from former lovers. Explicitly, the Darlings are manifested using bunnies, which transform into men upon summoning and are killed with an ax once they reveal their subhuman nature.

Yes, how weird. But Samantha is being brainwashed. Her inner monologue softens into the bunny hive mind; she begins to punctuate her sentences with frilly adjectives, refer to herself as “we” — she's one with the other bunnies — and consume pink sugary pastries exclusively. Her nicknames for the girls now vanish as the informal ‘bunny’ is used indulgently to refer to them.

Ava is the one who saves Samantha from this cult, pulling her from the pack one afternoon when the bunnies are on their way to the mall. She's suffering from Stockholm syndrome, these 4 girls have exposed her to violent episodes of killing prototype men by ax every single night for the sake of their "creative expression", and the hive mind must be exorcised. Ava rehabilitates her, but not before the bunnies invite her back to prove herself one last time: show us you can do The Work, that you are good enough to manifest a man.

And so, Samantha manifests her own boy, Max, who is an amalgamation of ex boyfriends and former acquaintances. Max infiltrates her life, her mind, and her thesis work. He becomes Frankenstein, much bigger of a problem than she ever expected him to be. He can read her mind. He is an expression of her love for Ava, so much so that they become lovers. He hacks Samantha’s entire life — making moves to vindicate all her innermost thoughts and desires while creating a wake of destruction in her own path.

As Samantha returns to what we believe is her original reality, thanks to Ava’s rescue mission, we see rare and new glimpses of an inner monologue that is entirely her own. It feels fully owned and authentic, and it doesn’t have the glare of an imagined outsider’s perception like most of the story did previously. As these glimpses become more evident, they also become more warped, and the reader begins to question the validity of her perception. There is evidence that imagined universe upon imagined universe are at play here.

Ava never really existed after all. She was an imaginary friend all along. A manifestation of Samantha’s hatred of her world, someone who supported her outsiderness. Their conversations were a version of Samantha in concert with a different version of herself. Ava was a way to cope with loneliness — a way to disassociate from the world, a strategy to fill the silence that surrounded her.

This final twist feels vaguely familiar and too accessible, like ending an elementary school essay with “and it was all a dream!” It’s especially bewildering that the part given to reality was the summoning of men from bunnies instead of a friendship with someone who fully sees you. To keep the most inane details of the story exclusive from the unreality is jarring. Ava’s friendship with Samantha was a respite from the cliques and deadlines and pressures of a lonely season, but in the end that respite was never real. It was delusion. It was denial of the fact that you don’t get to choose the level of reality in your life. But you can choose your delusions, and if that's the case, your imagination ends up being the only one to keep you company.