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Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

Sometimes after finishing a book one word comes to mind, over and over again – honest – it is what oozes out of every word, every comma and full stop inside this book. It is honest, truthful. Raw.

Bunny, our narrator, is a person with so much humour and so much heart, so much character and together with her we embark on a journey through her life and her mental illness. This novel is at the same time funny and sad, beautiful and difficult to handle, it’s – life.

“Preferred words are not necessarily better words. If anything, the preferred word, however synonymous, can obfuscate rather than clarify. It’s the same truth swaddled in cotton, like how the preferred term for manic-depressive disorder is now bipolar disorder, which sounds like an Arctic expedition as opposed to someone gleefully pulling her hair out of her head.”

Bunny is a writer who describes her experience in the psychiatric ward through writing assignments, prompts in her creative writing classes there. Through prompts like An Introduction (300 words or less), A Favorite Song (300 words or less) etc. we learn about her life, we can glimpse into how she got to that point that she had to be admitted, how she got to rock bottom. In seemingly different and unrelated texts we get the feel of Bunny, we get to know her character, the people around her, her family, work and outlook. Her struggles, her pain, the way people didn’t understand her or just didn’t care enough to look, didn’t try hard enough to understand her.

“the truth, the whole truth, the cold truth, the hard truth, the ugly truth, the sad truth, and someone else’s idea of the truth which is not necessarily your own – the truth can be a cruel and dangerous weapon; flat out not nice.”

This is a story about the most difficult part of having mental health issues: understanding that there is a serious problem, asking for help and starting to work on it. Even though our main character has been aware of her mental health troubles most of her life, going to therapy most of her life, changing therapists very often, getting medication most of the time, that still wasn’t enough for her to get better. The process is what this novel shows us, a process that is, often, unfortunately, never ending, hard, horrible, difficult, that leaves the person without strength and the will to go on. But it works, slowly, gradually.

“She imagined it to be something like undergoing psychoanalysis in old Vienna, but to be a staff psychologist of Student Mental Health Services is more like being a physician for the prison system”

Not only does she start writing for a class in the psych ward, Bunny starts writing a book about her stay in there. She starts healing herself through writing, through fiction. Fiction is comforting, helpful, not real but just a possibility.

“and again she reminds herself, This is not a true story.

This is fiction.

Because, in a way, this is fiction and this is not fiction. Making a meta-textual twist. We are reading a work of fiction that describes “real” life and “real” characters. And a “real” character in the work of fiction writes – fiction. This novel she writes – is it the same novel we are reading? Fiction within fiction about fiction. This might sound fun and creative (and it is), but the whole novel is about much more. About the real world, a very cruel real world in a very true way. Fiction is here to help us but only if we figure out the problems ourselves and start working on solving them on our own. Fiction shouldn’t be a delusion, a non-reality, it should be a reality similar to our own so we can imagine ourselves the way we could be – healthier, calmer, better.

Finding out the truth is hard, a journey, but a journey that has to be taken, because that is the only way to continue living. And start living well.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for honest review. Thank you Serpent’s Tail and Netgalley.

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