The Paris Review

Monstrous Cute: An Interview with Mona Awad

Mona Awad (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Mona Awad’s first novel, the prismatic and devastating 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, started working its way into me by the end of the second chapter. I’d been feeling awful for the protagonist, Lizzie—it’s hard not to. She seemed, to me, so vulnerable, so unaware, so needy. But then, a sharp shift happens: Lizzie suddenly seemed fully aware of her vulnerability’s pull, and starts using it, inverting and playing the power dynamic, making a fool of the drunken, failed musician who falsely believes he’s the center of her world. I broke out in a grin and thought, “This seems quite impish.” It’s one of the few times that book made me smile—the pedicure scene made me sob, and the ending is wonderfully mysterious and lonely.

Transformations, inversions, and longing are Awad’s specialty, and in her new novel, Bunny, the impish quality is turned on in full. Samantha Heather Mackey (what a name!) is the archetypal outsider at an exclusive east coast M.F.A. program. The program’s mean girl clique is cloying, referring to themselves and each other as “Bunny” (how perfect in its layers of meaning—cutesy and pagan at once), while they critique Sam’s work as being “in love with its own outsiderness.” Sam gets an invitation to join the Bunnies’ off-campus salon-style workshops. She drags her feet, but, of course, she can’t resist. The workshops quickly reveal themselves as literal magical coven meetings. In the name of their artistic “practice,” the women conjure broken humanoid men

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