The other day, I expressed the suspicion that Simone Lia’s Fluffy (Dark Horse) would be “super, super cute.” It didn’t turn out that way, but it’s a very successful book for the qualities it does have.
On the surface, it’s about a single man and his talking baby bunny. Underneath, it’s about denial and avoidance. That kind of counterpoint could invite flagrant metaphor abuse, but Lia tends to skate past the obvious. (I strongly suspect that Fluffy is a bunny to avoid tricky questions about a bachelor raising a human toddler, beyond the cute diversions a bunny provides. Whatever the reason, Fluffy simply is what he is, and he doesn’t distract.)
Michael is bored with his job and a little alarmed at the attentions of Fluffy’s nursery school teacher, whose devotion is entirely out of proportion with any encouragement Michael has offered. He and Fluffy head off to Sicily to visit his parents and sister only to find that avoiding one set of difficulties sometimes places you right in the middle of new ones.
Michael’s sister is bored with her marriage and irritated with their mother, who is spending her golden years as a reinvigorated Catholic. (Where better to pursue that hobby than Italy?) Fluffy refuses to accept that he’s a bunny, and Michael’s father spends most of his time in a slightly baffled haze, absorbing and amplifying the anxieties of his family.
Despite the weight of these issues – unrequited love, familial conflict, marital ennui, crises of identity – Lia manages to be both lighthearted and respectful in her handling of them. She’s too smart to offer clear closure to these messy lives, and she’s too sharp a comedienne to squander the possibilities of overlapping, interlocking tensions. But she’s generous enough to offer some happy moments, while withholding happy endings, and clever and restrained enough to get away with it.
There are amusing flights of fancy (exposition provided by a dust mote being one of my favorites), but they don’t pull the story away from its emotional core. The book has a very serendipitous feel to it, like all of its elements kind of blithely fell into place in the right way. I’ve always admired the ability to create that appearance of effortlessness, and Lia manages it while actually having something interesting and engaging to say. The book may have confounded my superficial expectations, but it was surprisingly satisfying.