Rachel Kushner – The Mars Room

Mars room

Man Booker Longlist Novel 1/13

The American Dream is a topic that has always interested me but that was perfected and dissected in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom . Now in our post modern times I guess books that reveal U.S. society as a playground of ugliness are gaining prominence. This is not an entirely new concept and has also been a topic of interest for writers as well. Think of Bukowski’s Factotum, Hubert Selby jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn or anything written by Chuck Palahniuk. More recently Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was an satirical expose of US culture and that won the Man Booker. Clearly the anti-American Dream is gaining ground.

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room could also be classified as an anti-American Dream novel. Told (mostly) through the eyes of Romy Hall, we readers get a view of a society that is corrupt, immoral, self-centred and greedy. The setting of the book is an all female prison ward, and Romy is there due to a murder.

Kushner’s previous novel, The Flamethrowers was a masterpiece, but with The Mars Room, she has even managed to supersede that novel. The cast of characters that populate The Mars Room are all memorable; Conan, the Tomboy, Teardrop, the ward leader, Doc, the corrupt cop, Gordon, the earnest prison teacher and many more. Although none of these characters have really any redeeming qualities (bar a couple) they oddly deserve some sort of sympathy from the reader. The writing is fantastic, I also liked the way that Kushner revealed all the prisoners backstories in a subtle way, which goes to prove that seemingly different destinies have a way of crossing each other and influencing the future.

The irony is that all the prisoners have been arrested due to the problems that they faced in society and yet those people are still roaming free so is the outside world the real prison? That’s up to us readers to decide which environment is the more restrictive one.

I had stated in a badly written review of The Flamethrowers that one day Kushner will write the great American novel. With the Mars Room she has not only achieved it but as managed to reveal the rotten core that is modern day society.

Many thanks to Jonathan Cape for providing me a copy of The Mars in Room in exchange for an honest review.