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In her debut novel, “The Rabbit Hutch” (Knopf), Tess Gunty writes about young adults who have aged out of the foster care system without having found a “forever” family. The novel, set in a downtrodden city inspired by Gunty’s hometown of South Bend, Indiana, was the National Book Award winner for fiction.
Read an excerpt below, and don’t miss Robert Costa’s interview with Tess Gunty on “CBS News Sunday Morning” August 13!
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The Opposite of Nothing
On a hot night in Apartment C4, Blandine Watkins exits her body. She is only eighteen years old, but she has spent most of her life wishing for this to happen. The agony is sweet, as the mystics promised. It’s like your soul is being stabbed with light, the mystics said, and they were right about that, too. The mystics call this experience the Transverberation of the Heart, or the Seraph’s Assault, but no angel appears to Blandine. There is, however, a bioluminescent man in his fifties, glowing like a firefly. He runs to her and yells.
Knife, cotton, hoof, bleach, pain, fur, bliss—as Blandine exits herself, she is all of it. She is every tenant of her apartment building. She is trash and cherub, a rubber shoe on the seafloor, her father’s orange jumpsuit, a brush raking through her mother’s hair. The first and last Zorn Automobile factory in Vacca Vale, Indiana. A nucleus inside the man who robbed her body when she was fourteen, a pair of red glasses on the face of her favorite librarian, a radish tugged from a bed of dirt. She is no one. She is Katy the Portuguese water dog, who licked her face whenever the foster family banished them both in the snow because they were in the way. An algorithm for amplified content and a blue slushee from the gas station. The first pair of tap shoes on the feet of a child actress and the man telling her to try harder. She is the smartphone that films her as she bleeds on the floorboards of her apartment, and she is the chipped nail polish on the teenager who assembled the ninetieth step of that phone on a green factory floor in Shenzhen, China. An American satellite, a bad word, the ring on the finger of her high school theater director. She is every cottontail rabbit grazing on the vegetation of her supposedly dying city. Ten minutes of pleasure igniting between the people who made her, the final tablet of oxycodone on her mother’s tongue, the gavel that will sentence the boys to prison for what they’re doing to Blandine right now. There is no such thing as right now. She is not another young woman wounded on the floor, body slashed by men for its resources—no. She is paying attention. She is the last laugh.
On that hot night in Apartment C4, when Blandine Watkins exits her body, she is not everything. Not exactly. She’s just the opposite of nothing.
Excerpt from “The Rabbit Hutch” by Tess Gunty, copyright 2022 by Tess Gunty. Published by Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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