Size / / /

Cursed Bunny coverCursed Bunny, a short story collection composed of speculative pieces, is Bora Chung’s first book to be translated into English. The author of three novels and now three short story collections, Chung here presents the reader with bizarre tales of misery and dread, her bone-clean prose leading expertly into filthy, twisted lands.

The stories vary in genre, from science fiction to horror to dark fantasy to magical realism. They feature inventive concepts that pierce the mind like sharp hooks: a woman is stalked by a creature born from the waste in her toilet; a man finds a fox that bleeds gold; a grandfather enacts gruesome revenge with the help of a cursed lamp shaped like a bunny. Even so, each premise never feels larger than its story, every one unraveling organically until reaching what feels like its inevitable ending. Fast paced and brief, most of the stories pass quickly, but each one is a blinding flash of lightning in a merciless storm, a punch in a bout that requires breaks which never last long.

A contributing factor to this sense of onslaught is the fabulistic tone throughout the collection. Characters are rarely named: the protagonist of “The Head” is “the woman”; the narrator in “Cursed Bunny” is nameless; the tragic monster in “Scars” starts out as “the boy” and eventually turns into “the youth.” This decision adds to the mythical feel of those pieces, as if the book is retelling folktales. Names show up only when they can add to the surreal landscape, as in “The Embodiment,” in which the main character’s family posts an ad in a newspaper looking for a father to her unborn child, or in “The Frozen Finger,” where the narrator’s identity is kept ambiguous between “Teacher Choi” and “Teacher Lee.” Even these simple tools of identification are positioned, then, to help with the blurring of edges, to further spread the mind-bending fog that wraps Chung’s stories.

Underlying the mystery of these tales is a pulsing and sharp anger directed at patriarchal and capitalist institutions. In “The Head,” the protagonist’s fury over the toilet creature is dismissed by her family and her husband. She feels anxious and isolated as a result, which is exacerbated as the years go by and the ageing of her appearance torments her. The protagonist tries to ignore her unhappiness and her unfulfilled needs as much as she ignores the creature that insists on haunting her. To no avail: “She tried to flush but the water wouldn’t go down.” This creature, the titular “head,” exists because of her, dependent on her body. A tenacious parasite, it refuses to leave even when the woman orders it to. When the creature shows up taking the shape of her younger self, the story takes a darker turn that illustrates the cruelty of a world that values women for their beauty and youth.

Women’s ownership of their bodies is a theme that reappears in another story: in “The Embodiment,” a woman gets pregnant—the story implies after taking too many birth control pills—and is told by her doctor that she must find a husband or there will be dire consequences for her baby. As she attempts to date, she is humiliated and threatened by the men she meets, while dealing with a constant anxiety regarding a pregnancy she didn’t choose. “Live only for the child,” an older woman tells her, an attempt at consolation to which she tries to cling, trying to make sense of her new reality. But even attempting to live by those words isn’t enough, and the harrowing ending of the story spells out the tragedy of her loss of bodily autonomy.

In “Home Sweet Home,” a woman proud of being able to pay for her own debts ends up financially troubled by her husband’s irresponsibility. Her solace is in a ghost-child found in the building they bought. The child keeps her company and punishes the ones who wrong her. But accepting that protection means abdicating from the real world, where safety is nowhere to be found. It’s a sacrifice that the protagonist, beaten down after her husband’s betrayal, is happy to make: “As long as she was with the child, she would never leave this building, either. And that wouldn’t be so bad, she thought.”

Meanwhile, the title piece, “Cursed Bunny,” is a story of revenge against a family in control of a corporation, who ruined their main competitor through lies and defamation. The narrator’s grandfather, drawing on his own traditions, gives the CEO’s family a cursed lamp that slowly destroys them and their business. Shaped like a bunny, the object represents the supposed harmlessness and mundanity of the domestic spaces in which so many of these stories take place. The danger the lamp carries exists in tandem with the terror that pervades these scenarios: the horror lurking beneath what we accept as common and normal.

When the lamp starts to chew through the company’s documents, creating rumors of rats in their warehouses, the workers are blamed, then used as tools to help the company take control of the narrative. The prose narrates this with nonchalance, acknowledging both the realism of the surreal situation and the oppression it perpetuates. The cursed magic is just another piece in an already distorted puzzle.

A similarly brutal revenge takes place in “Goodbye, my love,” a science fiction story about a woman who creates androids. Despite having recently acquired a much newer model, the protagonist still keeps the very first android she created, Model 1. Although Model 1 barely functions anymore, the narrator can’t bear to get rid of her due to her romantic feelings for the android. Love and possession are described in such close association that they might as well be one and the same: “A being who existed, from head to toe, solely for me—someone who was, for lack of a better way of saying it, completely and utterly ‘mine’.” The narrator might long for an intimate connection with the beings she owns, but the context in which their dynamics are inserted makes this impossible, and her ultimate fate inevitable.

But maybe the most explicit expression of the collection’s themes is in the stellar “Snare,” the story of a man who finds a fox who bleeds gold. Exploiting the animal, he creates for himself a legacy of violence and destruction. The piece’s opening line (“this is a story I once read long ago”) creates a fable-esque feeling that leads well into the first scene, in which the fox, caught in a snare, begs the man to let her go “in a human voice.” When the man imprisons her and begins to hurt her for gold instead, she stops talking, a chilling subversion of what initially seemed like an Aesopian set-up: the exploitation generated by the search for profit dehumanizes even magical beings. The fox, turned into a tool, never speaks again.

And the violence persists, always expanding outwards from its initial victim: when the animal dies, the man’s abuse is directed to his children. He finds out the son can also bleed gold, but only immediately after sucking the daughter’s blood. The man must then make sure the son can hurt her before the son is in turn hurt by his father. In this chain of brutality, Chung demonstrates the interplay of class and gender, as well as the intrinsic connection between capitalism and the patriarchy.

With a deft hand, then, Chung creates a collection brimming with energy. No story ever feels the same, and yet they all fit together smoothly as a large, terrifying mosaic. In a walk through Bora Chung’s tapestry of nightmares, fear is the compass one can’t help but follow.



Fernanda Coutinho Teixeira is a fiction writer with a penchant for the fantastical, the scary, and the weird. Born in Rio de Janeiro, she is a second-year graduate student in the Creative Writing MFA at University of Central Florida. Her work has been published in Strange Horizons, The Deadlands and The Ex-Puritan. You can find her at http://fernandacoutinhoteixeira.com/ and on instagram, @fercoutinhotex.
Current Issue
13 May 2024

This variation on the elixir of life pairs the flavour of roasted roc with the medicinal potency of the philosopher’s stone. But buyer beware: this dish isn’t for everyone.
mourn and lament while mixing, then cut down a tree
At the end of every tunnel, there was an epithelium of silence that deluged the larynx.
Issue 6 May 2024
Issue 29 Apr 2024
Issue 15 Apr 2024
By: Ana Hurtado
Art by: delila
Issue 8 Apr 2024
Issue 1 Apr 2024
Issue 25 Mar 2024
By: Sammy Lê
Art by: Kim Hu
Issue 18 Mar 2024
Strange Horizons
Issue 11 Mar 2024
Issue 4 Mar 2024
Issue 26 Feb 2024
Load More