The mars room

Rachel Kushner

Book - 2018

"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 wor...ld 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."--

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Subjects
Genres
Mystery fiction
Published
New York, NY : Scribner 2018.
Edition
First Scribner hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
338 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9781476756554
1476756554
Main Author
Rachel Kushner (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The Mars Room is a seedy San Francisco strip club, a dark little planet where interactions are strictly cash-based, just the way Romy Hall likes it. But one regular customer plunges into obsession, and now Romy is heading to prison for life two times over. In smart, determined, and vigilant Romy, Kushner (The Flamethrowers, 2013), an acclaimed writer of exhilarating skills, has created a seductive narrator of tigerish intensity whose only vulnerability is her young son. As Romy takes measure of the dangerously byzantine dynamics of the women's correctional facility, Kushner brings forth commanding, contradictory characters habitually abused by the so-called justice system, which is rendered as both diabolical and ludicrous, poisoned by racism, sexism, and class biases, its rules cleverly subverted by inmates seizing dignity, self-­expression, and enterprise. Kushner also gives voice to an imprisoned and endangered rogue cop, a lonely prison teacher attempting to share the solace of books, and the stalker Romy is convicted of murdering. This is a gorgeously eviscerating novel of incarceration writ large, of people trapped in the wrong body, the wrong family, poverty, addiction, and prejudice. The very land is chained and exploited. Rooted in deeply inquisitive thinking and executed with artistry and edgy wit, Kushner's dramatic and disquieting novel investigates with verve and compassion societal strictures and how very difficult it is to understand each other and to be truly free. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Having ranged the world in Telex from Cubaand Flamethrowers, both National Book Award finalists, Kushner here places us in a much more telescoped setting: Stanville Women's Correctional Facility in California's Central Valley. It's 2003, and since Romy Hall is starting two consecutive life sentences, she'll have lots of time to get acquainted with institutional living and the violence of the guards. With a seven-city tour. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Kushner, National Book Award finalist for The Flamethrowers and Telex from Cuba, is back with another stunner. It primarily follows the story of Romy Hall, who grows up on the seedy side of San Francisco, becomes an exotic dancer, and ends up with a life sentence for murdering her stalker. Knowing she has little chance of ever being released, her main worry is for the fate of her young son. We also learn the stories of several of Romy's fellow inmates, as well as of Gordon Hauser, the reclusive prison GED teacher, and Doc, an ex-cop in prison for killing his lover's husband's hit man. This novel includes copious descriptions of people living desperate lives and committing horrible crimes. Without a shred of sentimentality, Kushner makes us see these characters as humans who are survivors, getting through life the only way they are able given their circumstances. This survival continues in prison, where underqualified and disinterested corrections officers constantly berate them for the "bad choices" that landed them in prison. VERDICT This is not the type of novel where a happy ending is possible, but Kushner manages to make the closing paragraphs beautiful. [See Prepub Alert, 11/6/17.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Two-time National Book Award finalist Kushner (The Flamethrowers) delivers a heartbreaking and unforgettable novel set in a California women's prison. Single mother Romy Leslie Hall is serving two consecutive life sentences at the Stanville Women's Correctional Facility after murdering a stalker. From prison, she narrates her drug-addled, hard-bitten past in San Francisco, where she worked as a stripper at the legendary Mars Room, as well as her present, where she serves her sentence alongside inmates such as Conan (so masculine as to have been mistakenly sent to a men's prison), the heavy metal-loving white supremacist known as the Norse, and loquacious baby-killer Laura Lipp. Readers slowly learn the circumstances of Romy's conviction, and eventually glean a composite portrait of the justice system, including the story of Gordon Hauser, a well-meaning but naive English teacher assigned to Stanville, and a dirty LAPD cop, "Doc," who serves out a parallel sentence in the Sensitive Needs block of New Folsom Prison. But the focus is on the routine at Stanville, where Romy pines for her son, reads the books recommended to her by Gordon, recalls her past life in vivid and excruciating detail, and plans a daring escape. Kushner excels at capturing the minutiae of life behind bars, and manages to critique the justice system and vividly capture the reality of life behind bars. Romy is a remarkable protagonist; her guilt is never in question, but her choices are understandable. Kushner's novel is notable for its holistic depiction of who gets wrapped up in incarceration—families, lawyers, police, and prisoners; it deserves to be read with the same level of pathos, love, and humanity with which it clearly was written. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (May)This review has been corrected; an earlier version stated a character was on death row. Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"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 beautifullyrefined."--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

At the beginning of her two life sentences in Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, Romy Hall reflects on her youth and her relationship with her son, while navigating the harsh realities prison life.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A woman begins serving two life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, deep in 2003 California's Central Valley, reflecting on the San Francisco of her youth and her relationship with her young son while navigating the harsh realities of a bare-essentials life of casual violence at the hands of the guards and her fellow inmates. By the award-winning author of The Flamethrowers.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

TIME's #1 FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR ' NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDLONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDALAn instant New York Times bestseller from two-time National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room earned tweets from Margaret Atwood''gritty, empathic, finely rendered, no sugar toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled''and from Stephen King''The Mars Room is the real deal, jarring, horrible, compassionate, funny.'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.'

Review by Publisher Summary 5

TIME’S #1 FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDLONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDALAn instant New York Times bestseller from two-time National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room earned tweets from Margaret Atwood—“gritty, empathic, finely rendered, no sugar toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled”—and from Stephen King—“The Mars Room is the real deal, jarring, horrible, compassionate, funny.”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.”