“Told from the perspectives of prisoners, victims, and staff, Kushner’s stunning depiction of a women’s prison centers on Romy Hall, twenty-nine and serving two life sentences for killing her stalker. Because she worked as a lap dancer, her public defender believed she’d hurt her case if she testified, so her story never came out in court. That’s just one of many outrages Romy is helpless to address. Worse is discovering she’s lost parental rights to her seven-year-old. Even so, the knowledge that her son exists is Romy’s life line. He gives her courage to endure, and even to plan a kind of future—even in the age of mass incarceration, which, the prisoners note, has made prison more horrifying than it was before.”Laurie G., Politics & Prose
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“Electrifying.” —Vanity Fair
“A page turner… The Mars Room is one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant and devastating… The Mars Room is a heartbreaking, true, and nearly flawless novel.” —NPR
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. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”
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