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The Rabbit Hutch

Review

The Rabbit Hutch

Tess Gunty’s fictional Vacca Vale, Indiana, recently has been listed among the Top 10 Dying American Towns. It’s the former site of the Zorn automobile factory, and though its one-time success is now a distant memory, one can still see the vestiges of its previous opulence in the Victorian homes that flank downtown, and in the verdant green space --- the Valley --- that was designed as a retreat from the bleak mechanisms of the industrial age.

At the dilapidated affordable housing complex, La Lapinière --- known by everyone in town as The Rabbit Hutch --- things couldn’t be more removed from Vacca Vale’s one-time splendor. Its residents feel trapped, lonely or ignored. Many of them have never set foot outside their town, to the point that more than one of them imagines their bodies inextricably linked to the fate of their town. However, as they soon discover over the course of a few very eventful days, they are also inextricably linked to one another.

"THE RABBIT HUTCH is at times funny, disturbing, bizarre and quietly beautiful. It closes with a moment that reminds readers that human connection and kindness can thrive despite the circumstances."

At the center of THE RABBIT HUTCH is Blandine, a young woman who, like her three roommates at The Rabbit Hutch in Apartment C4, has recently aged out of the foster care system. She’s whip-smart, with an incredible memory, and her current fascination is with the early Christian women mystics, particularly Hildegard of Bingen. Now that Blandine’s dreams of college have evaporated, she fantasizes about a mystical experience that might allow her to escape her terrestrial existence, at least for a little while.

But Blandine has things to do on earth, too. She’s furious about the proposed plan to redevelop her beloved Valley into a new real-estate development, part of a far-fetched plan to lure coastal elites to launch startups in a more affordable, less complicated milieu. She has embarked on her own little campaign of ecoterrorism against the powers that be, even if she fears on some level that her efforts are doomed.

THE RABBIT HUTCH takes place over the course of just a few days, culminating in an explosive act of violence that the narrative hints at from the beginning but is so intense that Gunty chooses to illustrate it --- literally, with black-and-white drawings that require readers to fill in the horrific blanks for themselves. For this kind of violence --- whether against people or animals, physical or emotional --- lurks behind closed doors all over Vacca Vale, and as shocking as the culminating violence might be, it’s not exactly surprising.

But Vacca Vale is still a complicated place, with hard-won sites of beauty and grace. Gunty effectively demonstrates how its residents square their disillusion with their hometown with their overwhelming desire to have a home at all, with their combination of skepticism and hope that the proposed developments might actually change their lives for the better. THE RABBIT HUTCH is at times funny, disturbing, bizarre and quietly beautiful. It closes with a moment that reminds readers that human connection and kindness can thrive despite the circumstances.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 5, 2022

The Rabbit Hutch
by Tess Gunty

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0593534662
  • ISBN-13: 9780593534663