One Apartment Building, Many Lives

THE RABBIT HUTCH, by Tess Gunty

It’s all writers’ prerogative to kill their darlings, though it takes a certain élan to kill your actual protagonist on the first page — or at least send her sliding somewhere beyond this mortal plane, as Tess Gunty seems to in the opening of “The Rabbit Hutch”: “On a hot night in Apartment C4, Blandine Watkins exits her body. She is only 18 years old, but she has spent most of her life wishing for this to happen.”

It’s one of many bold moves in Gunty’s dense, prismatic and often mesmerizing debut, a novel of impressive scope and specificity that falters mostly when it works too hard to wedge its storytelling into some broader notion of Big Ideas. The parameters of the story itself are confined almost entirely to a single summer week in the fictional Midwestern city of Vacca Vale, Ind. — one of those dying third-rate metropolises, whose tenuous grip on prosperity faded when its main industry, Zorn Automobiles, collapsed under a cloud of debt and ecological misdeeds several decades before.

Blandine is a child of Vacca Vale born and raised, if rarely cared for: an autodidact and eerie Valkyrie beauty, with her piles of well-thumbed tomes on 12th-century mystics and corn-silk halo of hair. There was a mother once, we are told in a few deftly sketched sentences, with a fateful oxycodone habit, and a father in jail; then a series of foster families. Now she works at a local diner heavy on avant-garde pie — flavors of the day include lavender lamb and banana charcoal — and shares a shabby apartment with three other aged-out foster kids, all troubled varieties of teenage boy.

It’s their building that the book takes its title from: Originally designed to house Zorn laborers and christened La Lapinière in an act of misplaced faith and European flair, it’s now a run-down complex that no one ever really refers to as anything other than the Rabbit Hutch. The walls there “are so thin, you can hear everyone’s lives progress like radio plays,” and Gunty passes through them with a God’s eye, dipping in and out of units like C12, where a 60-something widower furtively checks his ratings on a dating website, and C10, where an aspiring influencer vamps, ready for his close-up. An elderly couple in C6 play out age-old patterns of low-level domestic strife in a cigarette-smogged living room while Hope, the fragile young mother in C8 struggling to bond with her newborn, finds comfort in reruns of a golden-age sitcom called “Meet the Neighbors.”

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

Traveling light this week? Our latest paperback roundup includes a Stephen King thriller about a hitman whose last job gets complicated, an account of the incarcerated women fighting wildfires in California and a reissue of Raymond Chandler’s first crime novel.

Here are six titles we recommend →

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

BILLY SUMMERS, by Stephen King.

In this thriller, a Marine sniper turned hit man takes on one last job with a payout of $2 million, but he quickly acquires additional targets when he learns that he’s going to be double-crossed by the mobster who hired him.

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

SONGS FOR THE FLAMES: Stories, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Translated by Anne McLean.

This collection is primarily preoccupied with stories of war and imperialism in Colombia, legacies that haven’t ended but have instead devolved into generational traumas, state corruption and endless cycles of violence.

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

BREATHING FIRE: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, by Jaime Lowe.

Lowe’s account of the roughly 200 incarcerated women fighting wildfires in California addresses the state’s economic disparities, its woeful prison system and its struggle to contain the effects of climate change.

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

READ UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature, by Farah Jasmine Griffin.

As our reviewer, Monica Drake commented, in this tender, meditative memoir, Griffin’s evangelizing of Black literature sends you back to Baldwin, Coates, Morrison and others “to ponder and treasure them anew.”

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

THE BIG SLEEP, by Raymond Chandler.

This first novel by a master of crime fiction, originally published in 1939 and reissued with an introduction by James Ellroy, introduces Chandler’s famous private eye, Philip Marlowe, who is hired by a millionaire to stave off a blackmailer and finds himself embroiled in nefarious criminal schemes.

6 Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading in Brooklyn

THE ARSONISTS’ CITY, by Hala Alyan.

Alyan’s novel spans decades and continents to tell the story of a family, torn apart by war in the Middle East, as it comes together in Beirut to prevent its ancestral home from being sold off. As our reviewer, Maya Salam, put it, “Alyan turns paragraphs into poetry.”

Published on July 29.

Read more books news:



Source: Read Full Article