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The Mars Room: A Novel (2018)

by Rachel Kushner

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4736912,391 (3.61)107
"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."--… (more)
  1. 10
    Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (rjuris)
  2. 00
    Valencia by Michelle Tea (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: I feel like the protagonists could have crossed paths, and maybe that's both authors' point, that our lives, no matter our plans, have no narrative cohesion. Some rise, some fall, but it has nothing to do with virtue or talent or who deserves what. Those are all just stories we tell ourselves to feel okay about leaving people behind.… (more)
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» See also 107 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Last thoughts as I closed the book were “huh?”...as I proceeded to tear up. Did I understand the point to the book? No, but the ending was still incredibly sad to me. Everything was written very well. I love the characters, I love the storylines, but nothing connected. It was almost like this was a book of a few short stories but instead of reading one short story at a time, you read a little bit from each story in every other chapter. I kept waiting for it to “click“, for some connection to be made but that never happened. So I don’t want to give this book a bad score because overall I really enjoyed the stories, but I can’t give it a five because I don’t really understand the point to the book and that irritates me. ( )
  jbrownleo | Mar 27, 2024 |
Excellent ( )
  Mcdede | Jul 19, 2023 |
The Mars Room is a hard-bitten prison novel. At the outset, Romy Hall is being transported to a high security prison to serve a life sentence for murder. Romy was an exotic dance at the Mars Room in San Francisco, but he life has been on a downslope since then.

In the prison, Romy meets Gordon Hauser, a teacher, who sees her academic potential and tries to encourage her, however Romy is more interested in what she can leverage from him. We also encounter Doc, a disgraced ex-cop serving hard time in another prison for doing a hit on behalf of one of Romy's cell-mates. Doc lives in fear of his past being made known to the other prisoners.

In telling their stories Kushner does not try to varnish any of her characters; they are all flawed human beings. The book is an engrossing read with plenty to say, but I'm not sure that I entirely got it. For example, I don't understand why Kushner included excerpts from the Unabomber's wilderness diary as some sort of counterpoint to Gordon's remote existence near the prison. I don't feel that added anything other than confusion to the novel. ( )
  gjky | Apr 9, 2023 |
For me, this book ambled along in the three star realm until the ending where I felt it improved. I love when an author can take essentially bad characters and make them sympathetic (a la Lolita), and I thought Kushner did that to some degree throughout the book, but in a more masterful fashion when describing Romy’s stalker, Kurt. The characters were just generally plain interesting; I felt like I was introduced to people I would never know in real life.
My major knock on the book was with the plot. I didn’t mind the disjointedness as many characters were introduced and then put on the back burner, but I couldn’t help but think that the author’s in-depth research was just a little too in evidence. It read like non-fiction to me in so many ways. I love non-fiction, so I am fine with that, but I expect a different kind of narrative arc in a novel, and honestly, this book didn’t deliver. I can put down and pick up a non-fiction read with ease; and with this book, I felt the same way . . .and that’s not the quality of a great work of fiction.
( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
A beautifully crafted story with a lyrical energy running through its gritty and violent body. ( )
  Chris.Cummings | Dec 29, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
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I feel the air of another planet.
Friendly faces that were turned toward me
but now are fading into darkness.
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Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays.
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"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."--

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