I am so glad that we chose to read The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner for our book club monthly read. It is not my usual type of read and it’s nice to go outside the comfort zone once in a while.
I have not read any of Rachel Kushner’s work. She is known for her best selling book The Flamethrowers (2013), which was a finalist in the 2013 National Book Award and a NY Times top 10 books of 2013. Her works also include the short stories in The Strange Case of Rachel K (2015), and Telex From Cuba (2008).
Knowing that Kushner is a good writer made me excited to read a book about prison and the women in them. I did expect it to be a good read even though I didn’t read any reviews before hand.
I am glad that my expectations were met and that the book went beyond my expectations.
I listened to the audio book first, then read the book. I usually like author readings but to be quite honest, I didn’t like this author reading The Mars Room. For some reason, it didn’t work for me. I think it may have been the way the book was structured that didn’t transfer well in the audio book.
In any case, I did enjoy reading the physical book SO much more.
Here’s what I enjoyed about The Mars Room:
The book starts with Romy on a prison bus and the goes back and forth to show how she ended up incarcerated.
The story is about Romy Hall who works in a strip club called The Mars Room. Her problem starts when one of the regulars, Creep Kennedy, starts stalking her.
Romy eventually ends up in a women’s prison for murder.
Rachel Kushner is a phenomenal writer!
I love how perceptive Kushner is. Kushner’s weaves a tragic story of Romy Hall and how she ended up in prison but presents it to us in a real and compelling manner. It’s raw and gritty and you can believe all the events that led up to her imprisonment.
Kushner’s style made me think about choices. The back and forth of the story led me to ask “Are we in control of our destinies, or are we a result of our socio-economic placement?”
Romy’s life from childhood seemed fated. I liked that we start the story off with Romy in prison. The story goes back into her childhood and we get a glimpse of the way she was bought up. At several points in the book I wondered if Romy ever had a chance of not being imprisoned as her trajectory seemed doomed. Prison eventually.
Kushner depicts Romy’s life in a way that we can’t forget. She hits the nail on the head with the tone of the book. It’s sometimes dark, sometimes comical (in a dark way), but overall it’s a punch of reality. There’s no fluff anywhere. It’s concise and there’s enough depictions for the reader to get the idea of her point.
The pace of the book was great. I kept wanting to read the next part of the story and find out what happened next.
Whilst Kushner does a great job bringing all the elements together, I did find that the book was a bit disjointed. I found the flow, especially in the audio book, jagged. It was less pronounced when I read the book the second time.
The Mars Room biggest strength was the cast of interesting characters, which included Doc the dirty cop, Serenity Smith the transgender character, Kurt Kennedy the stalker, Gordon Hauser the GED teacher.
I enjoyed Romy’s story the most, but also loved supporting characters and their backstory. Kushner brought all the characters alive, and they felt so realistic.
Romy was an interesting and complex character. Kushner made Romy so real that she grew on me the more I read. The childhood scenes made me want to protect her. Romy was left to defend for herself – she was out late with her friend Eva when she was 11, going to clubs and doing drugs. She didn’t know better.
What I found amazing about Romy’s character was that through all that she did, I didn’t criticize her for her choices. Usually, I make judgement of the character, but with Romy I could empathize with her and wanted to root for her.
I would have liked more on Romy’s mother. Romy’s mother was briefly mentioned and I would have liked to have her story and their relationship fleshed out. She was looking after Romy’s son Jackson when Romy was incarcerated but we don’t know much about their relationship.
I enjoyed the ending but didn’t like the ambiguity of it. I think the author intended the ending to unclear and for you to decide what you will.
I personally prefer a closed ending where there’s no doubt what happened. It can be frustrating trying to guess what the author intended at the end. Perhaps the author wanted me think about whether I was an optimist or realist?
The Mars Room left me thinking about choices.
My Final Thoughts
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner is an awesome well written book. It a raw, gritty and a compelling read.
I loved how it left me thinking about the choices we make and its consequences.
I highly recommend this book although it may not suit everyone. There’s strong language and violence.