Bunny Modern

David Bowman reviews 'Bunny Modern by David Bowman

By David Bowman
Published February 10, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)
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A guy could go crazy stating the plot to "Bunny Modern." The narrator, Dylan Carlyle, was a child TV star. Then a private eye. Now he reads women's minds. He's just fallen for a gun-toting nanny named Clare -- artillery and nannies not an unusual combo in Manhattan circa 2020, where fertility is waning and kidnapping rampant. There's also no electricity as Con Ed's juice is flowing backwards in time to Newport, R.I., circa 1966, when Bob Dylan first went publicly electric.

Whew! What a story. Let me say up front that I found "Bunny Modern" a terrific second novel: funny, smart and boisterous. My judgment is suspect, I know. Not because I wrote "Bunny Modern," but because this novel is fashionably reckless while I myself am obsessed with 19th century literature. I mean, just look at my bookcase: One shelf devoted to Emily Dickinson. Two rows for Melville. And every book Thomas Carlyle wrote, including all nine volumes of "Frederick the Great." How could I enjoy reading something so "postmodern"?

Well, why not call "Bunny Modern" "post-rabbit" as well? The book just seems modern (i.e. "trendy") because of its self-conscious narrator, yet that narrative technique is as old as "Tristram Shandy." Bowman's sentences themselves are as flamboyant as Laurence Sterne's, while also resembling Amy Hempel's or Mark Richard's -- the three moderns all former students of Gordon Lish, i.e., the 1980s "Captain Fiction" (although privately Bowman refers to the former Knopf editor as "King Lear"). Bowman only took the man's notoriously expensive workshop for six months, which was long enough to learn Lish's secret formula: The second sentence comes out of the first sentence. The third sentence comes out of the second sentence. And the fourth comes out of the third. And so on.

This technique sounds deceptively simple, but it allowed Bowman to flourish because his simple talent is comparing apples to oranges, comparisons made more palatable when the sentences bob along like gentle waves in a pond. A duck pond. For example, in "Bunny Modern" Bowman compares Fred Astaire's dancing to the state of redemption, and Alexander Graham Bell to endless love, comparisons made successful because (for example) the sentence concerning "Endless Love" comes out of the previous sentence concerning the inventor of the telephone. (Hear Bowman's ducks go, "Quack! Quack! Quack!")

The one flaw in "Bunny Modern" is that the book has an open ending, much like the author's first novel, "Let the Dog Drive." The ending of "Bunny" may confuse some readers as to Bowman's ultimate intentions. Let me clear things up. Originally "Bunny Modern" was 400 pages, not 200. A long book. And long books benefit from open endings. Then Bowman cut the manuscript in half, but kept the original ending -- which might now seem too opaque for some readers.

Not that this should put anyone off from "Bunny Modern." As it's always a good idea to end a review by comparing the novelist to a well-known writer, let me say that David Bowman is a mongrel Richard Brautigan and Dashiell Hammett. Or maybe a mix of Brautigan and Hammett and Thomas Merton (because Bowman has this Christ thing going on). On the other hand, it may be easier to think of Bowman as a painter -- Hieronymus Bosch merged with Mary Cassatt. If Bowman were Bob Dylan, he'd write songs that were crosses between "Visions of Joanna" and "Wiggle, Wiggle." If Bowman were Bill Clinton, he'd go dancing on the beach with the ghost of Lillian Gish instead of scoring deep throat from some dopey intern. But Bowman is Bowman. And "Bunny Modern" is a book that is as wild and spooky as these wild, spooky days we're living through.

David Bowman

David Bowman is the author of the novel "Bunny Modern" and the nonfiction book "This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of the Talking Heads in the 20th Century."

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