The Hare: A Cautionary Tale?

THE HARE (2021)

By Melanie Finn

Two Dollar Radio Books, 320 pages





Can two damaged people find happiness in each other? What if one has no confidence and the other a highly distorted sense of reality?


Hares are shy, a trait that defines Rosie to a T. She was raised by a censorious grandmother in Lowell, Massachusetts. As Rosie put it, she grew up with the “cold, steady drizzle or Gran’s resentment.” She thinks she’s plain-looking and talentless. Rosie manages to obtain a scholarship to New York’s Parson School of Design, though she is convinced she has no real artistic talent–and she might be right. She has enormous difficulty in focusing or coming up with ideas.


The Hare shifts from Lowell to New York, and eventually to Southport, Connecticut, then Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Rosie’s main accomplishment in New York is to reconsider her physical appearance. This comes courtesy of Bennett Kinney, who claims to adore Rosie for her innocence and beauty. He is an unlikely suitor in that he’s nearly twice her age, is erudite, has fancy associates, and claims to deal in art and estate objects. Maybe. Lots of things about Bennett sound better coming out of his mouth than getting down to brass tacks. The Hare has been described as both a cautionary fairy tale and a tribute to female power. The first is certainly true; the second uncertain and problematic.


After being wined, dined, and courted, Rosie finds herself at a Southport housesit with Bennett and really begins to wonder if she’s out of her league. How many people have a Van Eyck hanging on the wall of their summer “cottage?” Or a boat house apartment that’s nicer than any place she has ever lived? People know Bennett there, though that’s not necessarily a good thing, as Bennett’s wealthy friends Hobie and Mitzi hint. Nor is Rosie sure exactly what Bennett and his associate Wheezie are up to. Because she’s a person of low self-esteem, Rosie struggles to determine if Bennett is shady or if she’s simply too inexperienced to comprehend what he tells her. To top it off, she’s pregnant and, in 1985, abortion is illegal.


Things get bit clearer when Bennett announces they are leaving Southport for Vermont, where he has been offered a teaching job at an offbeat small college near Barnet. (Sterling? Goddard?) They move into a poorly insulated cabin. Rural Vermont. Winter. Suspicious locals. Uh-oh. Were it not for the help of her cranky, rough-around-the-edges neighbor Billy, Rosie might not have survived. Billy teaches Rosie about things like woodstoves, wool socks, thrift store parkas, and coping with poverty. Bennett is seldom around and claims he has a room at the college as a reward for his stellar scholarship. Another perk is that they will soon send him to Paris. What is it Bob Dylan once wrote? “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”


The Hare moves us from 1983 to 1985, 1991, 1993, and eventually 2019. On one level, The Hare is about how Rosie finds her groove. She notes, “Men mistake the act of submission for the condition of submission.” [Emphasis mine] But don’t unfurl the “Sisterhood is Powerful” banners. Rosie raises her daughter Miranda, copes, slowly integrates into the community, and becomes more self-sufficient, but her life isn’t exactly a vat of maple syrup. Many traumatic things will happen and there’s always the question of what do we do with a problem like Bennett. Not to mention there antigodlin locals who aren’t what they appear to be.


The Hare takes its title from Rosie’s character and from a frozen lagomorph she finds on her porch. The latter is a metaphor for the fragility of liife amidst harsh natural elements, and also for social class. Getting by is not the same as getting on. Many in the Northeast Kingdom are the sort for whom an unexpected car repair is an economic disaster. Author Melanie Finn drives home class themes throughout via various juxtapositions: Lowell versus New York, Southport versus the Kingdom, those with priceless art versus those who run of wood, those who can afford reassignment surgery versus those who buy cast-offs, and so on. Hers is not a flattering portrait of a nation severely split between have-everythings and have-nots. The novel sometimes suffers from being overly ambitious. Its sweep from 1983 to 2019 provides an arc for Rosie’s life, but involves foreshortening that make some actions and impulses less convincing than others. I shall leave it to you to determine whether the book’s denouement is effective and shocking, or implausible and contrived.


Rob Weir





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