Book Review: Tess Gunty's The Rabbit Hutch
"On a hot night in Apartment C4, Blandine Watkins exits her body."- it's a new opening phrase that contagiously circles the modern literary world like once Albert Camus' "Mother died today." in The Stranger. This enigmatic new sentence belongs to a debut writer Tess Gunty whose novel The Rabbit Hutch won the National Book Award in 2022.
And then the story gets rewound in order to gradually come back to the moment mentioned in the first sentence of the story. Although you won't skim through a coherent story-telling. It actually reminded me of chaotic reading, which in these days I experience rather often myself: diving deep into the pages of the book but then grabbing the phone to randomly check what's new on Instagram or Twitter, then going back to the plot but on a spur of the moment wandering away in my thoughts to some other dimensions, only to return to the reading but only after checking some ideas on Google. It's not easy to navigate at first and the author has no intent to help you but every new fragment is like a piece of puzzle, which will eventually find its place in the whole picture.
The plot of the novel mostly revolves in the apartment block called the Rabbit Hutch, though its proper name is La Lapinière Affordable Housing Complex. It's in the fictitious city of Vacca Vale, Indiana, where a fictitious Zorn automobile factory used to operate and keep the city vital. Only those glorious days are over and now Vacca Vale is topping the list of "Top Ten Dying American Cities." Blandine is an eighteen-year-old girl just out of the foster care system working at the diner and living with other three boys of the same fate.
However what happens is not so important as how it is all described. Tess Gunty has that natural gift of "language calligraphy" that enables her to shepherd the words into the unique poetry composed of "bull's eye" metaphors, observant characterizations, and hidden derisions. She juggles the words to finally throw them into the right place.
Blandine is at the very centre of the story, but "she's not everything... She's just the opposite of nothing." At first glance it seems obvious that the purpose is to reveal a young woman abandoned by her parents, foster system and the whole country, used by her music teacher, and deprived from the higher education which she really deserved and consecutively from a better life. It reeks of hopelessness as Vacca Vale does. However, somewhere underneath there's a feeling that Blandine is a symbol of self-brainwash (in fact, the phenomenon outspread among our over-pseudo-info-consumed society), as her obsession with the 12th century Catholic female mystics extends above and beyond. "They loved suffering", Blandine explains to her neighbor. Should Blandine suffer, too?
Blindly following any ideology won't lead to a happy revelation - quite the opposite, it will hurt you in the end. But the most important thing is to be given a chance to wake up:
"You're awake," Joan says instead, incongruously.
A peculiar flash of light shivers across the room.
"I am," Blandine replies. "Are you?"