Everyone has a favorite Nick Cave record. Hell, everyone has a favorite Nick Cave band, seeing as he fronted three separate ones during his long career, not to mention releasing some material under his own name. The Australian published his first novel in 1989, “And the Ass Saw the Angel,” a Southern Gothic piece about a mute with terribly abusive parents who has angelic visions and plots his revenge. It’s a fun book, if you can believe that, because Cave is more than able to juggle the plot’s absurdities.
Here’s another fun one. Twenty years later, the musician and author offers his second novel, “The Death of Bunny Munro.” His title character, a door-to-door salesman, is left to care for his young son after his wife commits suicide. He hits the road. His son adores him. Bunny’s not the greatest of dads; in fact, between his sexual liaisons and quick selling sprees, he doesn’t have much time for Bunny Junior. The dead wife might be haunting him, after all.
Cave’s crafted a delirious road novel that’s both grim and brimming with humanity; the father and son, as these stories work, develop a stronger bond over their traveling, but not with the help of the violent sorts they encounter along the way. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” is a bit of a stretched comparison, but McCarthy himself is not—like the great American writer, Cave fills his passages with grit, smoke and rage, yet corners the reader with unexpected emotion. You care for Bunny more than you think you do, despite his being rather despicable.
You also feel sorry for him. Hell, which this might very well be, you feel sorry for all them. The hustlers, the housewives, the dangerous. Cave falters once in a while when he attempts to shoehorn in too much comic farce, gags that threaten the overall stream of the book. (I must say, whenever I chuckled out loud, that was also when I stopped reading and got a bite to eat.) “The Death of Bunny Munro” would’ve worked without any humor, but of course that’s not Cave’s style and, of course, a humorless book about a decrepit dad and his young son called “The Death of Bunny Munro” wouldn’t be for everyone.
It’s well known that Cave is devoutly Christian, and it would be sloppy to not at least mention that some of the book’s themes could touch on beliefs, whether Cave intended it or not. Most obvious is a thinly veiled “All you need is love” concept, as Cave does write intelligently on the son’s love for his father, though that presumption, that the world’s worth its weight in love, is amateurish to say the least.
Despite some missteps, Cave churns out another worthwhile book. A quick read, you won’t be transfixed by his characters or plot, but you won’t be bored either. If Cave is anything, he’s an entertainer, no matter the medium. (Tom Lynch)
“The Death of Bunny Munro,”
By Nick Cave
Faber and Faber, 278 pages, $25