Hildegard, Freud and Marx Walk Into a Diner

‘The Rabbit Hutch’ By Tess Gunty

KNOPF, AUGUST 2022, 352 PP

ON A HOT night in Apartment C4, Blandine Watkins exits her body.” So opens Tess Gunty’s feat of a novel, The Rabbit Hutch, which begins with the death of its central character. Blandine is an orphan who recently graduated from the foster system, is obsessed with Catholic mysticism, and has dabbled in some light ecoterrorism in between shifts serving pie at the local diner. From the moment of her death, the novel takes on various perspectives of residents of the affordable housing complex where Blandine lived, in a dying Midwestern town still trying to cling to its glory days of automobile manufacturing. The other characters, each one more impossibly excellent than the last, include the son of a former silver screen diva, a content moderator for an obituary website, and a young mother terrified by her infants’ eyes

The novel’s intellectual discussions reveal important facets of the characters, and, at the same time, they show us the futility of academic language when it comes to human interaction. Blandine tries to explain an abusive relationship with her former teacher like this: “I would go so far as to argue that our relationship contained three common stages of economic development […] I was utterly beholden to you, labored for basically nothing for you—then capitalism. And now, fuck. I don’t know. Maybe I went too far.” Gunty is a courageous writer who believes in her own intelligence and that of her audience.

Some of the dialogue could have used more editing, and the ever-changing point of view makes the story feel, at times, more like a script than a novel, breaking the emotional connection between reader and characters. The Rabbit Hutch won’t reach or please all readers, but it is a crucial piece of literature, a rare novel that is able to discuss contemporary issues intelligently and without preaching or talking down to its audience.

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