Friday, July 26, 2019

"Rabbits for Food"

Binnie Kirshenbaum is a novelist and short story writer. She has twice won the Critic's Choice Award and the Discovery Award. She was one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists and one of Paper magazine's Beautiful People. Her books have been selected as Favorite Books of the Year by The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Vogue and National Public Radio. Her work has been translated into seven languages. She is a professor and Fiction Director at Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts.

Kirshenbaum applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Rabbits for Food, and reported the following:
Page 69 falls midway into the chapter titled “Is She Getting Any Help?”(The answer is No.) This chapter is a chronology of the experiences with myriad psychologists and psychiatrists whose help Bunny (the novel's protagonist) sought prior to the major depressive disorder afflicting her now. This chapter, and by extension, page 69, is unique to the book insofar as it is a discrete, free-standing look back that span many years, which does not do much to heighten the tension. The first half of page 69 sums up her dissatisfaction one of the psychiatrists:
Dr. Stine wore velvet shawls and wrote papers for professional journals in which she psychoanalyzed artists and writers. They were all dead, the artists and the writers, but still, she should've changed their names. A year or so in with Dr. Stine, Bunny related an exquisite example of the systematic erosion of her confidence, how when it was time for Bunny to apply to college, her mother left on her bed a brochure and application for dental hygienist training. Dr. Stine gave Bunny a copy of a paper she'd written called "Too Much Mother Too Close to Home, " one she just happened to have on hand, in which based on the story "So Much Water So Close to Home," she psychoanalyzed Raymond Carver.... Goodbye Dr. Stine.
The depiction of Dr. Stine is emblematic of Bunny's cynicism and her judgmental nature. But she's not wrong, either. Bunny might not be sure if it's ethical or not to write psychoanalytical papers on dead authors, but she does know that for Dr. Stine to give one to her--a writer who considers herself to be a failure-- is an insensitive and self-aggrandizing response to Bunny's pain. Bunny never lets foolishness or thoughtlessness pass by without comment. Her sardonic tone of voice is largely consistent throughout the novel and is one of the ways with which she tries to buffer herself against the hurts she has experienced. It's also an unsuccessful way to bolster her own lack of self-worth.

The second half of the same page introduces the reader to Dr. Lowenstein, an encounter which reveals another side to Bunny:
Unlike the others, Dr. Lowenstein neither gave her advice nor spoke in platitudes. Mostly, he said nothing, which might've provoked Bunny to ask, "What am I paying you for? I can talk to myself for free," except that it seemed that he rarely spoke because he was listening.
Despite her penchant for snarkiness, she is sensitive and intuitive. She doesn't lash out at everyone. Her feelings about Dr. Lowenstein, which she acknowledges and accepts with gratitude are also present (in greater and deeper degrees) in her relationships with her husband, her closest friend, and animals.

Her dual nature is evidenced by caustic misanthropy aimed at the inanities and thoughtlessness of humankind, which includes the vast majority of people she encounters as well as political ills that are juxtaposed by her periodic expressions of love, admiration, affection, and genuine concern for the fate of the world. These extremes are nowhere near as pointed on page 69 as they are on other pages, nonetheless, but they do reveal a tempered version of the same thing. And as her mental illness is the novel's driving force, page 69 is a clear-cut representation of her failed attempts to conquer despair.
Learn more about the book and author at Binnie Kirshenbaum's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rabbits for Food.

--Marshal Zeringue