Reviews for The Mars Room

by Rachel Kushner

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
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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.