Strange and Sad and Beautiful All at Once: The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

I have no good excuses. It should not have taken me so long to read The Rabbit Hutch.

It was my Christmas read, the book I asked Santa for, because it had received the National Book Award. Every once in a while I try to keep things high brow around here, and it just felt like required reading given all the “best of” lists on which it appeared.

And when I finally got to it, well … Succession started. Top Chef. Ted Lasso. My daughter introduced me to Jury Duty. I would pick it up, and knock out a few pages, but …. it’s … dark. Like, really dark.

But please don’t mistake that for bad. Because, it’s really pretty amazing.

Set in the dying town of Vacca Vale, Indiana, the residents of The Rabbit Hutch are the central cast for Gunty’s debut novel. The Hutch is Vacca Vale’s affordable housing complex, nestled near the remains of the Zorn Automobile factory, abandoned decades earlier but not before poisoning the town’s water and land. Benzene, what a parting gift.

Readers are introduced to Hope, Joan, Blandine, James, Moses, Todd, Malik and Jack — each trying to make sense of the lives they’ve lived and where they are headed next. It’s Blandine’s story that takes center stage — a young woman having recently matriculated from the foster system and living in a shared apartment with Todd, Jack and Malik — also foster system graduates. Connected to nature in an almost ethereal fashion, Blandine is still processing one of the worst violations possible involving a trusted adult, while also reconciling her relationships with her roommates and the town in general.

And then there’s Joan — we all know a Joan, and we’re all guilty of not knowing that we know a Joan. She’s the woman at the grocery store that you can guess lives alone, but you haven’t gone out of the way to say hello to. Her parents are gone, she’s just trying to make it to the end of the month on the few dollars she has left in her checking account, she’s got a really crappy job monitoring online memorials for inappropriate comments and now she’s got an unstable son of a D-list celebrity after her because she deleted his rant on her obituary.

I think what may have been so unnerving about The Rabbit Hutch is that while it feels kind of out there, you know it’s not. You know there’s some guy who thinks it’s fun to freak out people by rubbing glow stick material all over his body and breaking into their bedrooms in the middle of the night. You know there are kids spit out of a broken system doing horrible things when left to their own devices. You know there are teachers that take advantage of their positions of trust. You know small towns are dying.

It’s an emotionally rough read, but really beautiful prose. I want Blandine to be OK. I want Joan to be OK. Maybe, by the end of their stories, they will be.

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