Review #18: Year of the Rabbit by An Owomoyela

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Apr 12, 2010 in Reviews |

Published by: Chizine, 2010

StreetlightsPhoto by Dipanker Dutta Creative Commons

The Story:

There was a time, not long ago, when humans ruled the Earth. But all that’s disappeared, along with those people who didn’t accept their new lot in life and went out looking for answers, never to be seen again. The night rules now, and the dark will get you if you aren’t careful. The night never comes into houses though, so people huddle together, cramming into living rooms, bedrooms, wherever there’s space. Windows are papered shut so the darkness won’t seep inside. There’s some semblance of safety in the light, and for two young women, the thrill of venturing out past curfew, jumping between the pools of yellow light cast by streetlamps is too much to resist.

The Craft: World Building

SPOILERS

The Year of the Rabbit is an interesting example of world building, because the world is not built with description but with fear and the characters’ reaction to fear. The story starts with streetlamps, or more importantly, the light they emit at night, keeping the dark away. We quickly learn that the night is not safe. The reader doesn’t get a clear sense of what’s going on in the opening scene, but we do know that we should be afraid. The word cues are subtle, but there: “drowning in the dark”, “lights started dying”, “illusion of safety”, “swarming ocean of black”. It’s clear these characters have diverged from our world and have journeyed into one of their own.

In the next few scenes, we get a sense of what life is like for these people now that humanity has been thrown from the driver’s seat. No longer in control, they hide from the night, drawing strength in numbers, and using each other for warmth in the winter months. The electricity and water are gone, but they make do. And curiously, there’s always food waiting for them, though no one tends the store. No one asks where the food is coming from. Curiosity is what’ll get you snatched up by the night, like all those others who went searching for answers and never came back. There’s something otherworldly going on here, and just when the reader is starting to get uncomfortable, the author strikes at our childhood fears:

“Night never came into the houses. It was the same way that kids’ monsters never crawled under their blankets and never reached over the side of their beds.”

The world expands some in the following scenes, and we get a glimpse of the park and the city and the streets. The park is so full of light, that even the shadows look friendly, but by now, the reader knows better. The city has been picked clean, wooden garages torn down for firewood, abandoned houses scavenged for blankets and food. And the streets are dark and too quiet, with streetlamps flickering in and out like the dark is trying to catch you.

Year of the Rabbit tempts the reader to dangle her feet into the mysterious shadows, and the thrill of the story is well worth it. Wonderfully written, intriguing, and poignant, this story will take you to another world constructed from the fear within.

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