Monday, November 14, 2011

Bunny Lake is Missing by Evelyn Piper

This time when Blanche came in 
the woman was alone in her
 vegetable store.
Opening to 
Bunny Lake is Missing
by Evelyn Piper
You pick your three-year-old daughter up from her first day of pre-school.  You wait with all of the other mothers, none of whom you know since you are new in town and on your own, as they watch their children come down the stairway.  You wait.  And wait.  But your daughter does not appear.

You look for her, for her teacher, but you can't find either.  You panic when the school administration tells you they have no record of your daughter even registering for pre-school let alone attending the first day.  The police show up, and you beg them to start searching for your daughter, but they seem hesitant.  Soon you understand that everyone believes you don't even have a daughter at all.

Blanche Lake faces a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances in Evelyn Piper's novel Bunny Lake is Missing.  She has just moved to New York City, not all of her belongings have arrived so she has no pictures of her daughter to show the police officers who doubt she exists.  She has kept a low profile because she is not married to her daughter's father so no one at the office where she works even knows she has a child.  One thing after another that might help her prove her child exists, fails to materialize for some reason, leaving Blanche on her own, searching the city streets throughout the novel in a Kafkaesque nightmare.

I've written before about the pleasure of the suspense in classic pulp fiction thrillers like Bunny Lake is Missing.  The situation is basic, a mother searches for the daughter only she believes is real.  We're spared the gory details that have become so common in today's crime thrillers.  Ms. Piper can generate suspense to spare  from this simple situation without invoking the latest in ritualistic serial murderers.  

It's interesting to me to find that Bunny Lake is Missing has been reprinted by The Feminist Press because it's difficult to see how this novel is feminist at all.  Blanche appears to be undergoing a punishment for having a child out of wedlock.  Her biggest on-going fear is that someone will discover her daughter is illegitimate.  The entire situation she finds herself in is the result of her affair with a married man.  Her mother does not support her.  The good friend she stayed with, practically in hiding, while she was pregnant and during the first few years of Bunny's life, offered to adopt the child once she married because it was the only way Bunny could have a normal life.  That Blanche insisted on raising Bunny herself seems to have led to her kidnapping.

I think a clue to what the reader is supposed to take away and to what makes this a feminist novel can be found in the title.  A real or imagined child is missing.  Her mother has to prove she exists in order to find her.  In a larger sense, Bunny is missing from the realm of acceptable children.  Her mother must prove she has a right to legitimately exists--something the other mothers at the day care center do not have to do.  Bunny's illegitamacy and the way this keeps her outside of the realm of 'normal' children is tied up in her abduction and in her mother's search for her.  By the end of the novel finding Bunny Lake, proving she exists, will prove she has a right to exists as well.

There really is much more to these pulp fiction stories than meets first meets the eye.

Otto Preminger directed a decent movie based on Bunny Lake is Missing.  He transplanted the action to London and cleaned up the morality of Blanche Lake's life as well, but the central problem of proving her child exists before anyone will help her find Bunny remains.  The trailer featuring Mr. Preminger himself, is below.


Willa said...

This sounds like a fascinating read and really scary! Will have to have a look for it. It sounds a bit like that movie with Angelina Jolie where her child goes missing and the police bring back a different child who claims to be her son... Chilling topic.

C.B. James said...

Willa, I hope you will read it. It's very good, if a bit dated. I enjoyed it.

Jenners said...

I enjoyed your analysis of the plot … I don't think I would have thought too deeply about it to be honest. It reminds me a bit of that Jodie Foster movie where she can't find her daughter on the plane and no one believes she even had a daughter. Can't quite remember the name of it though.

Jessica said...

That sounds like a worst nightmare which I guess is the reason people buy it. It certainly has me interested and I love the cheap thriller cover there.