A novel about farm chickens living packed together in cages does not seem like it should be high comedy, but somehow Deb Olin Unferth manages to write a delightful satire about the egg industry in her new novel, Barn 8. However, the opposition certainly doesn’t get off easy; characters in the animal rights movement get their share of roasting, too.
When Janey Flores discovers that she has a father living in Iowa that her mother never told her about, she hops a bus in Brooklyn and its sunshine and Instagram perfect old farms until she actually meets her dad and finds out that he’s a middle-aged loser. When her mother dies in an accident, Janey ends up living in Iowa until she meets Cleveland, her mother’s sole remaining Iowa friend. Cleveland works as an egg auditor, and she is obsessed with order and perfection and the farms she audits do not meet her standards, but the higher-ups routinely ignore her complaints. Janey tags along as Cleveland decides to get her revenge against the egg industry by clandestinely freeing chickens and dumping them on the doorstep of Dill, a local animal rights investigator.
Dill, a cantankerous recovering addict, is probably the best character. Full of sarcastic and mean comments, his actions show a strange kind of compassion. However, he’s on the outs with the animal rights nonprofit he works for, when Janey and Cleveland show, and he seizes the moment to bring his animal rights friends together, beautiful culty Annabelle and her stoic engineer ex-husband Jonathan, for one last big liberation. Along the way they pick up a motley assortment of oddballs from all corners of the US in order to free one million chickens from a farm.
Perceptions of the Midwest go from high to rock bottom in a flash, as does the egg industry and the animal rights movement. No one is perfect. Each side represented manages to be equal parts petty, fervent, heroic, and self-centered. Add to mix various point-of-views from the chickens themselves and you’ve got the funniest book I’ve read all fall.
Four stars out of five.
Favorite quote: “And then there were the activists. God save him from the activists.”
Page count: 256 pages