Welcome to my leg of the Algonquin Book Tour for Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny that was shortlisted for the international Booker Prize and was the winner of a Pen/Heim translation grant.
In my early years as a student of literature, I naively believed that books were something we could all agree upon regarding whether they were good or not. We are told which books are good and, for that matter, what art is good. The experts tell us these things. Only now do I see how truly subjective it can be. While good writing, the actual mechanics of stringing words together, is not subjective, the outcome can be and that’s how writers and writing once held as being supreme actually alter over time and how readers evaluating the same book can and will perceive it differently.
Which leads me to Bora Chung’s critically acclaimed Cursed Bunny.
Blurb: From an author never before published in the United States, Cursed Bunny is unique and imaginative, blending horror, sci-fi, fairy tales, and speculative fiction into stories that defy categorization. By turns thought-provoking and stomach-turning, here monsters take the shapes of furry woodland creatures and danger lurks in unexpected corners of everyday apartment buildings. But in this unforgettable collection, translated by the acclaimed Anton Hur, Chung’s absurd, haunting universe could be our own.
“The Head” follows a woman haunted by her own bodily waste. “The Embodiment” takes us into a dystopian gynecology office where a pregnant woman is told that she must find a father for her baby or face horrific consequences. Another story follows a young monster, forced into underground fight rings without knowing his own power. The titular fable centers on a cursed lamp in the shape of a rabbit, fit for a child’s bedroom but for its sinister capabilities.
No two stories are alike, and readers will be torn whether to race through them or savor Chung’s wit and frenetic energy on every page. Cursed Bunny is a book that screams to be read late into the night and passed on to the nearest set of hands the very next day.
The first two stories in Cursed Bunny deal with bodily excretions, if you will, and almost completed my reading. The first story, “The Head,” described in the blurb, could lead me to all kinds of conclusions based on excrement, aging, how we treat people we perceive as excrement, or, on a metaphorical level, what we do with the endless waste we create in our lifetimes. Perhaps this thoughtfulness is what the author intended. Or perhaps not. Without talking to her, I have no way of knowing–although I suppose I could read through the vast quantity of reviews to obtain an answer. But no. I felt like the first story was more of a test of my own stomach stamina and wondered, editorially, if it was the best story to begin the set.
Likewise, the second story, “The Embodiment” continued this downward spiral. A woman takes her birth control pills too long (say what? Definitely sci-fi/fable territory) and becomes pregnant . . . of all things. This story takes on a larger theater: just how awful people can be. And, I think it’s safe to say, that the complete horribleness of mankind is an extensive theme in this set of stories.
The next story was the one that changed my mind about continuing with the book; it’s the title story about a family that makes cursed fetishes and what the outcome is in an act of revenge. Does the story go a bit too far? Or is that humanity? That’s the purpose though, to show just how far revenge will carry on, what it does to all involved, how no one truly benefits.
Perhaps one of the more human stories is “Frozen Finger” in which a woman seems to come to consciousness and discovers herself trapped in a car when a disembodied voice offers to bring her to safety. The story builds in that way of all very good stories, relating necessary information as needed until the finale. It possesses a nightmarish setting and tone that was gripping.
Some of the stories I found to be forgettable and this may have been due to the fact that I read all of them within a matter of days and probably should have spread them out a bit better. One begins to feel slightly numb after reading about beatings and evisceratings and the general evilness of human beings especially after considering the reality of the world during the past few years. We are humanity and we are lacking what is deemed to make us human. Not only what makes us human, but what we, as humans make: thinking and feeling androids who could take over the world.
And, in a very strange way, the last story, “Reunion,” despite depicting the awfulness of humanity (again), hinges on a very peculiar kind of relief–hope–of being released from the struggle. It’s not hopeful and yet feels strangely so. It’s a quiet story but feels the most real and haunting and is perhaps the best story to end on.
While some of the stories took on an everyman tone, the ones that worked best for this reader, were the ones that felt less wholly allegorical or fable-like, that focused on particular people without referring to them as “the youth” or “the mother” or etc. Those also worked more on an emotional level. What’s more horrible or emotionally upsetting than bad things happening to an actual person? These stories shorten the distance between the characters and the reader.
To be fair, all of the stories worked; they left me feeling. And that’s the point whether I felt disgusted, upset, disturbed. It’s the prevailing emotion that’s the thing in horror stories. Does it matter whether I liked all of the stories or not? Probably not. There have been many books that I haven’t like that have left me thinking for a very long time after The End. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s the intended thing. Thinking.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.