TCR Talks with Deb Olin Unferth

by Matt Ellis Deb Olin Unferth is the multifaceted and award-winning author of six books, including her memoir, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, and the acclaimed graphic novel, I, Parrot. She is a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, the winner of three Pushcart Prizes, and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Her work has appeared in Granta, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, and The Paris Review. Unferth’s most recent novel, Barn 8, follows two egg industry auditors and a legion of unbalanced activists as they attempt to pull off the greatest hen heist in history. Back in late March, she took a…

Book Review: Barn 8


Deb Olin Unferth

Guggenheim Fellow and three-time Pushcart Prize winner Deb Olin Unferth knows that humans are a mess. Somewhere between visions of the ideal world and taking action, even the best-intentioned among us has the capacity to blow it completely. That’s probably why the clear underdog in her ambitious satirical political drama Barn 8 is a chicken named Bwwaauk.

Like with all great hen heist epics, this one starts with a late-night bus ride from New York to Iowa. Fifteen-year-old Janey Flores flies her mother’s coop to meet a father she didn’t know existed and to punish them both for the paternal omission. “She was going to make this man know her, or at least pay for not knowing her.” Her temporary act of teenage angst becomes permanent when tragedy strikes, stranding her in the Midwest, mourning the life she should have had. “But the old Janey—the original, the best, the one who might have lived and gone on to greatness, or at least happiness, or at least somethingness, had she not made the one terrible error—was stronger than any of them. The rest of the Janeys were mere shadows fading in light.”