Barn 8
by Unferth, Deb Olin






An unforgettably exuberant and potent novel by a writer at the height of her powers

Two auditors for the U.S. egg industry go rogue and conceive a plot to steal a million chickens in the middle of the night-an entire egg farm's worth of animals. Janey and Cleveland-a spirited former runaway and the officious head of audits-assemble a precarious, quarrelsome team and descend on the farm on a dark spring evening. A series of catastrophes ensues.

Deb Olin Unferth's wildly inventive novel is a heist story of a very unusual sort. Swirling with a rich array of voices, Barn 8 takes readers into the minds of these renegades: a farmer's daughter, a former director of undercover investigations, hundreds of activists, a forest ranger who suddenly comes upon forty thousand hens, and a security guard who is left on an empty farm for years. There are glimpses twenty thousand years into the future to see what chickens might evolve into on our contaminated planet. We hear what hens think happens when they die. In the end the cracked hearts of these indelible characters, their earnest efforts to heal themselves, and their radical actions will lead them to ruin or revelation.

Funny, whimsical, philosophical, and heartbreaking, Barn 8 ultimately asks: What constitutes meaningful action in a world so in need of change? Unferth comes at this question with striking ingenuity, razor-sharp wit, and ferocious passion. Barn 8 is a rare comic-political drama, a tour de force for our time.





Deb Olin Unferth is the author of six books. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes, and was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Her work has appeared in Granta, Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, and The Paris Review.





*Starred Review* Unferth is bird crazy (see the graphic novel, I, Parrot, 2017). Here she focuses her avian respect and affection on chickens, a bond forged during her reporting for Harper's on the egg industry's monstrous abuse of hens in towering megabarns. A daring writer of wit, imagination, and conscience, Unferth has transformed her foray into hen hell into an adroitly narrated, fast-paced, yet complexly dimensional novel about emotional and environmental devastation. The catalyst is teen Janey's abrupt departure from her happy life in Brooklyn with her single mother to meet her newly revealed father in Iowa. Marooned there, she eventually ends up working as an egg-farm auditor with her mother's former babysitter. Appalled at the brutality of the operations, they concoct an audacious (make that ludicrous) plan to liberate nearly a million tortured hens, drawing in Annabelle, a charismatic scion of a leading egg-farm family turned legendary animal activist. As this "animal heist" misadventure unscrolls, Unferth sharply illuminates the contrariness of human nature, celebrates the evolutionary marvels of chickens, and exposes the horrors of the egg industry. Unferth's vividly provoking and revelatory work of ecofiction spiked with mordant humor and powered by love joins the ranks of Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole (2002), Sara Gruen's Ape House (2010), Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior (2012), and Abby Geni's The Wildlands (2018). Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.





*Starred Review* Unferth is bird crazy (see the graphic novel, I, Parrot, 2017). Here she focuses her avian respect and affection on chickens, a bond forged during her reporting for Harper's on the egg industry's monstrous abuse of hens in towering megabarns. A daring writer of wit, imagination, and conscience, Unferth has transformed her foray into hen hell into an adroitly narrated, fast-paced, yet complexly dimensional novel about emotional and environmental devastation. The catalyst is teen Janey's abrupt departure from her happy life in Brooklyn with her single mother to meet her newly revealed father in Iowa. Marooned there, she eventually ends up working as an egg-farm auditor with her mother's former babysitter. Appalled at the brutality of the operations, they concoct an audacious (make that ludicrous) plan to liberate nearly a million tortured hens, drawing in Annabelle, a charismatic scion of a leading egg-farm family turned legendary animal activist. As this "animal heist" misadventure unscrolls, Unferth sharply illuminates the contrariness of human nature, celebrates the evolutionary marvels of chickens, and exposes the horrors of the egg industry. Unferth's vividly provoking and revelatory work of ecofiction spiked with mordant humor and powered by love joins the ranks of Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole (2002), Sara Gruen's Ape House (2010), Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior (2012), and Abby Geni's The Wildlands (2018). Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.





In her last book, Wait Till You See Me Dance (2017), Unferth explored the separate complicated lives of an ensemble of lonely outsiders; here she brings back a similar band of misfits—only this time, they're in cahoots. Helmed by a young woman named Janey, Unferth's narrative takes flight with a seemingly mundane turn of events. After leaving her mother and cozy Brooklyn brownstone for a new life in Southern Iowa with her deadbeat dad, Janey suffers a dose of reality and ends up stuck in a job as an auditor for the U.S. egg industry. While making her rounds through huge, "so-called cage-free" barns, she takes in the harrowing scene of hens "half-smothered and rotting alive...unable to look up and see anything but steel and conveyor belts." To further drive the horror of this home, Unferth reminds us that chickens, while generally deemed brainless fluff, are actually an incredibly intelligent species even capable of "long-lasting friendships." Incensed by the heinous conditions she witnesses, Janey joins forces with a fellow auditor to pull off "one of the greatest animal heists in history": stealing a million hens from one of the town's largest egg farms. To help them carry out their quixoti c mission, they recruit a motley crew of animal activists, undercover investigators, vegan dishwashers, a farm heiress, and tattooed punks, all united by their desire to find hope in a world barreling toward extinction. Ignited by her fiery wit and distinctive voice, Unferth's novel uses one of America's most valuable and overlooked institutions as fertile ground to raise questions around the truths people are fed and the ones they turn a blind eye to. In a nation that produces about 75 billion eggs a year, she shrewdly points out that it's basically become "our patriotic duty" to eat them. While this kind of politically charged rhetoric could risk coming off as pedantic, Unferth's writing never feels patronizing—more than anything, it's galvanizing, especially these days when "activism [is] less revolution, more capitalism with a conscience." If this novel isn't a movement, it has enough heart to start one. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.






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