In her latest book, Bunny, Mona Awad has crafted a darkly funny horror story about female friendships, class anxiety, art, and academia that has been likened to Heathers, Mean Girls, The Witches of Eastwick, and Swiftian satire. She’ll be giving a free virtual reading from it this Saturday on Zoom via East End Books Ptown.
The protagonist, Samantha Heather Mackey, feels like an outsider in her small creative writing M.F.A. program at fictional Warren University in New England. Studying on a scholarship, she is a loner with a gothic imagination. She is totally disgusted by a clique among her classmates —affected and entitled women who call each other Bunny and are so forcefully in sync, they almost function as one person.
Things change when Samantha receives an invitation to one of the Bunnies’ notorious “Smut Salons” and can’t resist attending, even at the expense of abandoning her best friend, Ava, who is equally repelled by the Bunnies. Samantha gets sucked into the Bunny cult, taking part in the weird rites of their “Workshop,” where they conjure up monstrous fantasies. Things get pretty real — and lethal.
“Female friendships are complicated,” Awad says. “And female cruelty is a particular type that is unique to women.” Samantha craves the Bunnies’ acceptance, even though she can’t stand them. “She’s longing for a deep friendship, and Ava represents that. It’s one of the situations where the struggle is to claim your authentic self and the other people who are a part of that. The conflict is being embraced by people you don’t like who have power over you. They represent something you want — the Bunnies embody privilege, wealth, confidence, and a kind of closeness that Samantha craves.”
The story is inspired by Awad’s experience at Brown University, in Providence, R.I., where she got an M.F.A. It was there that she wrote 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was published in 2016 by Penguin and made best-of-the-year lists at NPR, The Atlantic, and Time Out New York.
She started thinking that maybe one day she would write about her time in the M.F.A. program. “It was a harrowing experience in a couple of ways that I didn’t anticipate,” Awad says. “Obviously, there were no beheadings going on — well, maybe metaphorically — but it was very fertile ground for a lot of the ideas I explored in the book. Definitely the setting. Providence is this gothic, creepy, weird, and corrupt city.”
Awad, who was born and raised in Montreal, always wanted to be a writer. She remembers reading a poem in class that she wrote about a sports figure and getting positive reactions from her teacher and fellow 10-year-olds. “I was such a shy kid, and I had never had an effect on anyone,” she says. “It was moving and exciting. My ideas got bigger and bigger, so I eventually began to write novels. I found my home in novels. They are full of worlds you can get lost in for a long time. I share that with Samantha. I need that to survive.”
In both 13 Ways and Bunny, Awad says, “the main characters have this ambivalence towards the world they want to be a part of — they reject it at the same time. Transformations happen in both books, raising the question: how much can we really change? It’s a question I keep asking.”
Bunny has been optioned to be made into a television series. “The pilot and first episode have been written,” Awad says. “If it gets made, it will be a multi-season series. There’s a lot there that’s rich and can continue on.”
Awad, who currently lives in Boston, has accepted a position as assistant professor of English and creative writing at Syracuse University. She just finished her third novel, about Shakespeare, theater, and pain, titled All’s Well, which will be published in the fall by Simon & Schuster.
Bad Hare Day
The event: Virtual reading by Mona Awad from her new book, Bunny
The time: Saturday, June 20, at 5 p.m.
The place: eastendbooksptown.com via Zoom; prior registration is required
The cost: Free