A writer experiences a breakdown and ends up hospitalized; against all odds, hilarity ensues.
“The dog is late,” says Bunny, “and I’m wearing pajamas made from the same material as Handi Wipes, which is reason enough for me to wish I were dead.” Bunny is seated on a bench in a psych ward waiting for the therapy dog to arrive. It never does. After a New Year’s Eve breakdown, preceded by months of severe depression—she found herself unable to leave her apartment or sleep or eat or shower—Bunny has landed in a Manhattan hospital surrounded by the fellow patients she refers to, variously, as inmates, lunatics, psychos, and loons. Occasionally her husband, Albie, visits, bearing chocolate bars and peanut butter. Kirshenbaum’s (The Scenic Route, 2009, etc.) latest novel follows Bunny, whose name is just one vowel sound away from Kirshenbaum’s own, through her depression and hospitalization. Surprisingly, the book is hilarious. Bunny has no patience for self-delusion or pretension; she’s sharp-tongued and deliciously mean. (Like Kirshenbaum, she’s a writer—they share other biographical details, too.) Anticipating the New Year’s Eve party she and Albie attend every year, Bunny describes “catching up with people they’ve not seen since the New Year’s Eve before because who would want to see these people by choice?” Kirshenbaum’s prose is lean and her timing is impeccable; even better, her descriptions of Bunny’s intellectual “friends” are sharply unforgiving. At dinner, one friend “wants to know if any of them have read the Bolaño. That’s how he refers to 2666, as ‘the Bolaño.’ ” The novel is just as strong once Bunny gets to the hospital, where she refuses medication. If anything, the book’s end comes too soon.
Kirshenbaum is a remarkable writer of fiercely observed fiction and a bleak, stark wit; her latest novel is as moving as it is funny, and that—truly—is saying something.