Turn Me On, Dead Man: Nick Cave’s “The Death of Bunny Munro”

Written by Book Reviews, Books

Nick Cave has spent the better part of the past decade reasserting himself in his role as true rennaisance man. After the subdued and stately The Boatman’s Call (1997) and No More Shall We Part (2001), many thought Nick Cave was settling into family life and maturity with grace. Instead, he rallied together his Bad Seeds and launched a salvo of albums culminating in 2008’s joyously raucous Dig, Lazarus, Dig. If that wasn’t enough he started Grinderman, a side band of vitrolic rock of near Birthday Party intensity. He wrote the screenplay and (with Warren Ellis) provided the soundtrack for John Hillcoat’s acclaimed film The Proposition. Why not a novel as well?

The Death of Bunny Munro is Nick Cave’s second novel and his first since the southern gothic parable And the Ass Saw the Angel way back in 1989. Bunny tells the story of Bunny Munro, a door to door salesman, and unrepentant male slut. Cave describes Bunny’s feverish obsessions in unflinching detail in deft and precise prose.

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Bunny Munro is a traveling salesman, selling hand lotions and creams to desperate and despondent women. Bunny’s greasy bravado is absurdly comic at first, but quickly becomes abhorrent. The more we learn about Bunny the less and less we empathize — especially when past events begin to unfold and bubble up to the surface.

Bunny has a son, Bunny Jr., who has a brilliant knack for memorizing facts and figures gleaned from a set of children’s encyclopedias. His father entertains his pals by having his son recite the names of far-off countries. While his father is in a never-ending series of dingy apartments and hotel rooms, Bunny Jr. waits in the car, dodging truant officers, and in delicate and lovely passages, communing with the ghost of his dead mother. He idolizes and adores his dear old dad, even during his greatest transgressions.

By the end of the book, we’re in dire need of a shower, and more than ready to see the title of the book come to pass. As Bunny and his son drive from place to place, things get increasingly more surreal and the cold hand of death is always near. There’s a serial killer with horns, a nod to Win Wenders, and a cameo by the Author himself. In the end, The Death of Bunny Munro is a pulpy and visceral read. Misogynistic, mean, ugly. But like much of Nick Cave’s work, there’s an underlying theme of salvation and the dynamics of men – specifically fathers and sons.

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