A viciously funny bloodbath eviscerating the rarefied world of elite creative writing programs, Awad’s latest may be the first (and only?) entry into the canon of MFA horror.
Samantha Heather Mackey is the single outsider among her fiction cohort at Warren University, which is populated by Bunnies. “We call them Bunnies,” she explains, “because that is what they call each other.” The Bunnies are uniform in their Bunniness: rich and hyperfeminine and aggressively childlike, fawning over each other (“Can I just say I loved living in your lines and that’s where I want to live now forever?”), wearing kitten-printed dresses, frequenting a cafe where all the food is miniature, from the mini cupcakes to the mini sweet potato fries. Samantha is, by definition, not a Bunny. But then a note appears in her student mailbox, sinister and saccharine at once: an invitation to the Bunnies’ Smut Salon, one of their many Bunny customs from which Samantha has always been excluded, like “Touching Tuesdays” or “making little woodland creatures out of marzipan.” And even though she despises the Bunnies and their cooing and their cloying girlishness and incomprehensible stories, she cannot resist the possibility of finally, maybe being invited into their sweet and terrifying club. Smut Salon, though, is tame compared to what the Bunnies call their “Workshop,” which, they explain, is an “experimental” and “intertextual” project that “subverts the whole concept of genre,” and also “the patriarchy of language,” and also several other combinations of creative writing buzzwords. (“This is about the Body,” a Bunny tells Samantha, upon deeming her ready to participate. “The Body performing in all its nuanced viscerality.”) As Samantha falls deeper into their twee and terrifying world—drifting from her only non-Bunny friend in the process—Awad (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, 2016) gleefully pumps up the novel’s nightmarish quality until the boundary between perception and reality has all but dissolved completely. It’s clear that Awad is having fun here—the proof is in the gore—and her delight is contagious.
Wickedly sharp, if not altogether pleasant, it’s a near-perfect realization of a singular vision—and definitely not for everyone.