Winner of the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction.
A novel about an odd assortment of residents living in a crumbling apartment building in the post-industrial Midwest. Set across one week and culminating in a shocking act of violence, The Rabbit Hutch chronicles a town on the brink, desperate for rebirth. How far will its residents go to achieve it? Does one person's gain always come at another's expense?
[There are] 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 Rabbit Hutch smartly reframes the depressing clichés of a vulnerable teenager and an older authority figure, in part by making them each so constantly aware of the roles they’re playing. One of the pleasures of the narrative is the way it luxuriates in language, all the rhythms and repetitions and seashell whorls of meaning to be extracted from the dull casings of everyday life. Gunty’s writing is so rich with texture and subtext it can sometimes tip over into the too-muchness of a decadent meal or a Paul Thomas Anderson film. As with many new novelists, and a lot of veteran ones too, her longer monologues tend to come off less like the cadences of ordinary speech than the workshopped thoughts of a star student ... But she also has a way of pressing her thumb on the frailty and absurdity of being a person in the world; all the soft, secret needs and strange intimacies. The book’s best sentences — and there are heaps to choose from — ping with that recognition, even in the ordinary details ... The Rabbit Hutch’s vibrant, messy sprawl can seem that way too, but its excesses also feel generous: defiant in the face of death, metaphysical exits or whatever comes next.
The aspect of unreality—albeit carefully constructed unreality—is central to Ms. Gunty’s presentation of American malaise, which occupies an unstable realm between portraiture and allegory. It is never altogether clear whether her characters are in the grip of some transformative religious awakening or simply suffering from untreated mental illness. The ambiguity is the source of this novel’s remarkable nervous energy. A feeling of genuine crisis—unrooted but ferociously tangible—propels the narrative through its many twists to the catharsis of its bizarre ending ... The tension is not uniformly unflagging. An extended middle section recounting Blandine’s doomed love affair with her high-school music teacher is out of proportion in both length and tone, seeming to belong to a more realistic coming-of-age debut. But this does little to offset the unnerving vision and conviction of the most promising first novel I’ve read this year.
Hildegard of Bingen had little to say about human connectivity, being more concerned with the divine. But the spirit of the 12th-century mystic runs through The Rabbit Hutch, uniting and celebrating the disparate misfit residents of the low-rent apartment complex of the same name in Tess Gunty’s transcendent debut novel ... In this compelling and startlingly beautiful book, the Rabbit Hutch, with its grinding poverty and 'walls so thin you can hear everyone’s lives progress like radio plays,' is as much a character as its residents ... Gunty weaves these stories together with skill and subtlety. The details of Blandine’s traumatic history, for example, are slipped in via a very few well-chosen details.