Reviews for The Mars Room

by Rachel Kushner

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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 Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*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.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2018 Booklist


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kushner (National Book Award finalist for both The Flamethrowers and Telex from Cuba) takes listeners on a trip to the seedy side of San Francisco during the early 2000s. In this extremely depressing yet beautifully written tale full of sleazy nightclubs, drug addicts, and graphic violence, we follow Romy Hall on her way from exotic dancer to convicted murderer. Romy is a victim of a broken justice system and is serving life without the possibility of parole for murdering her stalker. With Romy, we get a vivid view of the brutality of prison as well as the stories of other characters within it, such as Gordon Hauser, who teaches at the prison, and Doc, a dirty cop who is convicted of a murder he committed for one of Romy's fellow inmates. Kushner, who also narrates, does such a remarkable job describing this dreary landscape that listeners can taste the despair and hopelessness. As narrator, her understated, matter-of-fact tone helps bring out the bleakness of both Romy's situation and the world surrounding her. This tone, however, does become problematic when the narrative switches to other characters since there is little to no distinction among story lines. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon provides the intro and outro song-it is a shame that we get barely three minutes of her music. -VERDICT Kushner delivers a powerful, character-driven story, highlighting the harsh realities of incarceration. Recommend to those who thought Orange Is the New Black was too sweet and heartwarming. ["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 to given their circumstances": LJ 4/1/18 review of the Scribner hc.]-Cathleen Keyser, NoveList, Durham, NC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Another searing look at life on the margins from the author of The Strange Case of Rachel K (2015) and The Flamethrowers (2013).Romy Hall killed a man. This is a fact. The man she killed was stalking her. This is also a fact, but, as far as the jury was concerned, the first fact mattered more than the second. That's why she's serving two life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility in California's Central Valley. Romy soon learns that life in prison is, in many respects, like her former life working at the Mars Room, a down-market strip club in San Francisco. The fight for dominance among the powerless looks much the same anywhere, Romy explains, and this novel is very much a novel about powerlessness. Romy is smart, she loves her son, but the odds were against her from the beginning, and most of the stories that intertwine with hers are similar in both their general outlines and their particulars. Chaotic family backgrounds, heavy drug use, and sex work are common themes. Several of the women Romy meets have been in and out of the jail for much of their lives. There are exceptions, like Betty the one-time leg model, who paid a contract killer to murder her husband for life insurance money and then put out a hit on the hit man because she was afraid he would talk. She becomes something of a celebrity inside Stanville. The cop who killed the hit man also becomes a major character. He's different from the women in this novel because he once had considerable power, but he, too, has a history of abuse and neglect. Gordon Hauser, who teaches GED-prep classes at Stanville, has more agency that any other main character, but he quickly learns the limits of his ability to help any of the women he meets. This is, fundamentally, a novel about poverty and how our structures of power do not work for the poor, and Kushner does not flinch. If the novel lags a bit in the long sections of backstory, it's because the honest depiction of prison life is so gripping.An unforgiving look at a brutal system.

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