Rabbits for Food has a similar, though less immediately apparent, frame in which a protagonist takes stock of the factors that have affected her mental health. The novel begins in the first person, partway into Bunny’s stay at a psychiatric ward, then flashes back to a third-person account of how she came to be there. The third-person passages are Bunny’s own writing: a novelized version of her illness and treatment. Her responses to prompts from the creative-writing therapy group that she reluctantly attends are also woven throughout. They appear as diary entries that reveal some of the most painful and formative moments of her life, but eventually shift into the second person as Bunny distances herself from her own revelations.
This structure of interruption and doubling back—with some passages reproduced almost identically, though from a different perspective—is disorienting but appropriate. One symptom of Bunny’s depression, her narrator explains early on, is short-term memory loss that amounts to a kind of narrative breakdown: “She finds she can describe a scene, but the connective tissue needed to tell a story becomes white space, like lines skipped on the page.” Accordingly, the chapters of her story become shorter and more fragmented around moments of emotional extremity, and Kirshenbaum withholds the key event precipitating Bunny’s depression until late in the book.
Bunny, like Juliet, struggles with self-loathing and alienation as a result of her illness; she experiences this less as a division of her identity, however, than as an urge toward self-erasure. In depression, she loses her appetite and becomes “insubstantial, a manifestation of the wish to disappear.” When she can’t bring herself to attempt suicide, she runs her passport and driver’s license through a paper shredder, and then isn’t sure how to respond when her husband comes home and asks her, “Are you here?” Bunny embraces the image of herself as “a person who is not easy to like”—language that adopts the perspective of an outside observer, just as her third-person narration does. This description makes it easier for Bunny to see herself as a character—and easier, in turn, to see her suffering as fiction, to say to herself, as she does at the hospital, “This is not real, this can’t be real.”
Bunny’s attitude could be read as denial. And yet, to the extent that mental illness challenges a person’s most closely held certainties, there’s a measure of healing in creating a narrative, in deciding what is true. The distancing tactics that Kirshenbaum and Escoria use to structure their stories—Bunny’s manuscript and writing prompts, Juliet’s patient logs and letters—communicate the characters’ feelings of isolation and disruption. These framing devices also provide Bunny and Juliet with a buffer from events that might otherwise be too painful to face. In treating their circumstances as fiction, they regain some of the autonomy they’ve lost.