TIME’S #1 FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
LONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
An 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, named after a German actress, 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: her young son, Jackson, and the San Francisco of her youth. 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, portrayed with great humor and precision.
Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room is “wholly authentic…profound…luminous” (The Wall Street Journal), “one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart” (The New York Times Book Review, cover review)—a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined and “affirms Rachel Kushner as one of our best novelists” (Entertainment Weekly).
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The Mars Room hits like a hurricane: powerful, destructive, impossible to ignore. Rachel Kushner spent a lot of time behind bars to research her novel, talking to prisoners about their lives and using these conversations as a basis for her sprawling cast of characters, who exist on society's extreme margins. Their stories connect back to Romy Hall, a former stripper serving a life sentence for killing a man who stalked her; we slowly learn about Romy’s feral youth and the agony of losing her young son. Reading Kushner’s book isn’t easy, but it’s a gripping and eye-opening portrait of a staggeringly large population that’s often dehumanized and ignored.
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, as well. 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. , This review has been corrected; an earlier version stated a character was on death row.