Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

My first advice to you is to ignore the blurb, as unless you are a very specific type of reader, it is going to give you unrealistic expectations regarding the tone of this novel and what it's actually about. RABBITS FOR FOOD is not a comedy in the usual sense and is unlikely to make you laugh out loud; it is funny, but in the scathing, bleak way that The Cable Guy is funny, or that Cousin Bette is funny-- it's "social commentary as train wreck"  funny, and a lot of people aren't going to go in for that style of humor.

Secondly, this is a book about mental illness, not about "losing one's mind." Mental illness is a chronic health condition and Binnie Kirshenbaum does a fantastic job showing how it can assert itself from a young age in milder forms, only to manifest in a more destructive manner when the person afflicted gets older. Bunny has always been different from the rest of her WASPy, affected family, and they have always resented her for it. Her negativity, and even her cruelty, appear to be byproducts of her depression, but nobody has ever taken the time to feel her out.

I suppose her personality could be described as "irreverent," but that implies a lack of caring, and it's pretty obvious that Bunny does take to heart the nasty remarks her friends and family make towards her. As someone who has experienced depression, those who have it may express it in odd ways-- it's more than sadness, it can also be expressed as emptiness or anger. Bunny's anger and bitterness at the world around her, though amusing and oftentimes spot-on, seem to be more of a reflection of her own lack of self-worth and self-value; and if you don't love yourself, it's really hard to love others.

We watch Bunny on New Year's Day, building up to what psychologists call an "episode": she is agitated, and not taking care of herself. Her husband, sensing something is wrong, is very worried, and does everything he can to dissuade her from going to the New Year's party with all their friends. Bunny is adamant; she wants to go. We don't know what's going to happen, but we know it can't be good, because the book opens with Bunny in a psychiatric clinic, pondering on how she got there.

The book switches back and forth between the Creative Writing prompts Bunny writes within the clinic, and Bunny getting ready for the party that will put her over the edge. Even though there isn't a lot of action, it's still very suspenseful, and her narrative voice, while bitterly sarcastic and misanthropic, is very relatable and clever. I was reminded a lot of GIRL, INTERRUPTED, for its unabashed portrayal of mental illness and recovery, and MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION for the way it juxtaposes mental health against the collective societal "sickness" of a specific period in time, in this case, the superficiality of the late 2000s, when everyone aspired to be a social climber.

RABBITS FOR FOOD is such a good book and I feel so lucky that I was able to get an ARC of it to review. Again, it's not a book for everyone, but for those who resonate with it, it's going to be a classic. It certainly filled that niche for me!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

5 out of 5 stars

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