Two auditors for the U.S. egg industry go rogue and conceive a plot to steal a million chickens in the middle of the night―an entire egg farm’s worth of animals. Janey and Cleveland―a spirited former runaway and the officious head of audits―assemble a precarious, quarrelsome team and descend on the farm on a dark spring evening. A series of catastrophes ensues.
Unferth’s gift as a short story writer is evidenced in this novel, her second: Within moments of being introduced to these characters, we know them intimately, care about them deeply ... The narrative throughout often mo ves outside of linear time, zooming into alternate pasts and certain futures, and to great effect ... At times, though, I felt I’d reached my capacity for caring about new characters ... But the chickens! What marvelous creatures! ... The thorough research Unferth must have done on the historical, cultural and agricultural aspects of hens and roosters is woven naturally throughout the text, and many of these characters are motivated to take action for the sake of these animals’ rights. Barn 8 is a beautiful, urgent, politically charged book with a huge heart, and while the plot is sometimes madcap, well, so is love.
...insights into chicken civilization are scattered throughout Deb Olin Unferth’s kaleidoscopic sixth book ... The architecture of this very real industry (which could stand as metaphor for any of the behemoth industries that seem to stork-drop products and services on demand) is sickening and overwhelming, yet Unferth never traffics in gratuitous shock. Instead, her sentences and constantly shifting point of view are embroidered with a great deal of unexpected tenderness and optimism ... the inhabitants of Unferth’s Midwestern galaxy are compelling, frustrating and utterly, haplessly human in their ability to contradict themselves while falling into and out of breathless, befuddled love. Somehow, through a delightful conjuring ... Though Barn 8 is a political novel punctuated with excellent, terrifying reporting from inside the belly of the American agricultural beast, it is not a diatribe; rather, it’s a call into the universe, a probing that asks: What if we the disconnected, we the too connected, we the individual data sets decided to do something, even if it felt like an impossible activist fantasy?
She’s a wildly creative, sharply insightful, and deeply compassionate writer (not to mention funny!) ... Separated into four sections and a brief epilogue, Unferth shifts adroitly between narrators giving the novel a rich variety of points of view, including a foray into the philosophy of chickens themselves ... Although the novel is written in Unferth’s signature concise and elegant prose with a clear forward moving plot, there’s enough here to warrant slow and careful reading ... rewarding and deeply moving.