NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - TIME'S NUMBER ONE FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR - NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018 FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and LONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL "Gritty, empathetic, finely rendered, no sugary toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled." --Margaret Atwood via Twitter "A page turner...one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart." --The New York Times Book Review (cover review) "Brilliant and devastating...a heartbreaking, true, and nearly flawless novel." --NPR "With her richly textured third novel, Kushner certifies her place as one of the great American novelists of the twenty-first century." --Entertainment Weekly From twice National Book Award-nominated Rachel Kushner, whose Flamethrowers was called "the best, most brazen, most interesting book of the year" (Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine), comes a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. It's 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, deep in California's Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision. Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner's work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction "succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive."
- ISBN-13: 9781476756554
- ISBN-10: 1476756554
- Publisher: Book Depot
- Publish Date: November 2018
Woman behind bars
BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, May 2018
Much of the action of Rachel Kushner’s brilliant new novel is set in California prisons. She has done her research, and the novel is filled with distressing factual details like death-row inmates sewing sandbags and prison staff using a powerful, probably toxic disinfectant called Cell Block 64. And of course there are the stultifying, dehumanizing prison routines.
But the moral scope of The Mars Room is really too large for it to be considered a prison novel. Through its vividly rendered characters, it asks the reader to ponder bigger questions—Dostoyevskian questions—about the system of justice, the possibility of redemption and even the industrialization of the natural landscape.
The novel’s central character is Romy Hall. We meet her as she is being transported from a Los Angeles jail to Stanville, a prison in California’s agricultural heartland where she is to serve two life sentences. She is 29, born to a cruel mother in a San Francisco neighborhood that bears little resemblance to the high-tech mecca of today. She is the mother of a young son she worries about obsessively. Until she fled a stalker by moving with her son to Los Angeles, she hustled as a lap dancer at a place called the Mars Room in downtown San Francisco. We don’t learn the details until late in the novel, but we know that because of her ineffectual lawyer, she ends up in prison for killing her stalker.
Kushner (Telex from Cuba, The Flamethrowers) is both tough and darkly funny in writing about her characters’ situations, and she writes not so much for us to empathize with them, but rather to understand them. The Mars Room is a captivating and beautiful novel.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Kushner for The Mars Room.
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.