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Barn 8
Cover of Barn 8
Barn 8
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

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.

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.

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About the Author-
  • Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the story collection Minor Robberies and the novel Vacation, winner of the 2009 Cabell First Novelist Award and a New York Times Book Review Critics' Choice. Her work has been featured in Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, The Believer, and the Boston Review. She has received two Pushcart Prizes and a 2009 Creative Capital grant for Innovative Literature and was a Harper's Bazaar Editors' Choice: Name to Know in 2011. She teaches at Wesleyan University and currently lives in New York.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 20, 2020
    Unferth’s fresh heist caper (after her collection Wait Till You See Me Dance) features a most unusual quarry: 900,000 hens. After a disappointing search for her absent father maroons rebellious teenager Janey in rural Iowa, she takes a job as an auditor for the United Egg Producers and finds a kindred spirit in the disillusioned head auditor, Cleveland Smith, who can no longer consent to the grim conditions in which chickens are bred and slaughtered. Conceiving a madcap brand of ecoterrorism, the two women embark on a mission to liberate the birds. They recruit a wide array of conspirators, including the embittered animal inspector, Dill; a vengeful farmer’s daughter, Annabelle; lovelorn egg salesman Jonathan Jarman Jr.; and Cleveland’s faithful pet hen, Bwwaauk. After weeks of preparation, the gang are on the verge of realizing their fowl-focused emancipation when a botched effort causes more damage to the farm than they’d bargained for. In this outrageous piece of rural noir and pitch-perfect characterization, Unferth recalls Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang with a dose of vegan-minded quirk. This entertaining, satisfying genre turn shows off Unferth’s range, and readers will be delighted by the characters’ earnest crusade.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 1, 2020
    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 quixotic 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(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 1, 2020
    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).(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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A Novel
Deb Olin Unferth
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