About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, February 14, 2011

#15 - Room

Room, by Emma Donoghue (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2010).

Summary: "To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination -- the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

"Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen -- for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack's curiosity is building alongside her own desperation -- and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

"Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel -- but always deeply human and always moving. Room is a place you'll never forget."

Opening Lines: "Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra."

My Take: O. M. G. It's not often that I read a book that's generated so much buzz without feeling a let down, but this is most certainly one of those times. In a word, Room is brilliant. I came home from Job #2 & stayed up way later than I should have last night (well, at least it was late for me) finishing it; I couldn't wait to find out how things resolved.

The above summary provides the basic premise for those who've somehow missed the corona of reviews this book's generated over the past year or so. Old Nick has held Ma captive in Room for 7 years, ever since kidnapping her off the street when she was 19, and Jack's lived his entire 5 years within Room's four windowless walls. From some inexplicable reservoir of strength, Ma has managed to give Jack a remarkably healthy and secure childhood, considering. He exercises every day (piling all the furniture in the center of the room and running laps on Track, jumping on Bed a/k/a Trampoline), reads and writes and knows every story his mother can think of, and treasures the toys they've made from eggshells and old vitamin bottles. Ma strictly limits their TV viewing, is absolutely insistent on brushing teeth after each meal, and reads Dylan the Digger (one of a tiny handful of books in Room) Over. And. Over. Again. even when it gets on her last nerve. She tucks Jack into a cozy nest in Wardrobe each night, desperate to keep Old Nick from seeing him on those occasions when he stops by. Perhaps most remarkably, she never gives up hope; every weekday, she and Jack stand on Table to get as close to Skylight as they can, and scream as loud as possible in hopes that someone will hear. And it took me a while to realize that the light-flickering that occasionally wakes Jack at night is Ma's determined attempt to signal someone -- anyone -- who might see the light and investigate.

In short, Ma's prison is Jack's whole world. As she explains later, he knows the difference between real (what's inside Room) and TV, but not between Room and Outside; she can't bear to tell him that there's a whole world of fun that he's missing out on.

To Donoghue's credit, as compelling as the world she creates inside Room for Ma and Jack is, the latter part of the novel -- in which the two finally do escape -- is at least as intriguing and provocative. We've all heard the news stories about kidnap victims long given up for dead and then freed after years and years have gone by, but Room's exploration of what it's like for Ma to re-enter the world and Jack to experience Outside for the first time is absolutely stunning. For years, Ma has ached to see her parents and brother Paul again, to swing with Jack as she once did with Paul in the backyard hammock ... only to find that her parents' marriage didn't survive their grief at losing her (Ma's mother never gave up hope; her father believed her dead and even held a memorial service). Jack's first-ever outing without Ma -- a trip to the Museum of Natural History with Paul and his family -- is rescheduled, when he's overwhelmed by what's supposed to be just a quick pit stop at the local mall. Likewise, his newfound grandmother takes him to a playground only to find that he doesn't know how to play with other children. Trapped indoors for years, both Jack and Ma sunburn at the drop of a hat. That's probably more than enough spoilers to tease those of you (all my legions of readers), but I can't say it loudly enough: You must read this book.

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