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The Mars Room

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  26,161 ratings  ·  3,433 reviews
It’s 2003 and Romy Hall, named after a German actress, 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: her young son, Jackson, and the San Francisco of her youth. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Scribner (first published May 1st 2018)
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Dougie Those are specifically extracts from the diaries of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose diaries had been given to Gordon to read by his friend Alex.
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
David Angel Hi, I really loved this book. That having been said, I've been a prosecutor in California for over twenty years, and this sentence makes no sense to…moreHi, I really loved this book. That having been said, I've been a prosecutor in California for over twenty years, and this sentence makes no sense to me. A first degree murder carries a sentence of 25-life, meaning that she would be eligible for parole in 25 years. If you murder more than one person you can get a 50 to life sentence. If it was a so called "special circumstances" murder (which does not appear to be the case here), she could get Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). So, on the one hand the sentence doesn't make a lot of sense. That having been said, one theme of this novel is that people are often not accurate in either their memories or what they tell you about their past. This is especially true when they are talking about something that is both traumatizing and puts them in a bad life. It could be this error is intentional in that Romy either doesn't understand her legal case, or she is not willing to share another crime. (less)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  26,161 ratings  ·  3,433 reviews


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Emily May
2 1/2 stars. It's taken me a long time to admit that I just didn't like The Mars Room very much. Even as I was struggling to keep my eyes on the page, keep reading, and not get distracted by that piece of fluff on the floor, I was doing my best to write a positive review in my head.

I thought I would love it. It felt like I should. What doesn't sound great about a gritty prison novel dissecting class, wealth and other power structures in the penal system? Diverse characters, complicated family
...more
Angela M
3.5 stars

I read an in-depth article in New Yorker Magazine that made it apparent why Rachel Kushner can so vividly bring her characters in this book to life. (The link to the article is below.) She followed an inmate at a California prison because she wanted to have people in her life “that the State of California rendered invisible to others.” She brings these real people to us through a cast of characters in her fictional account of life in prison. This book definitely depicts experiences
...more
Charlotte May
"If I had never worked at The Mars Room. If I had never met Creep Kennedy. If Creep Kennedy had not decided to stalk me. But he did decide to, and then he did it relentlessly. If none of that had happened, I would not be on a bus heading for a life in a concrete slot."

The Mars Room grabbed me from the get-go and I was hooked! Romy Hall is serving two life sentences for murdering her stalker in front of a child. Before this she worked as a stripper in a club called The Mars Room. We follow both
...more
Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
Library Overdrive Audiobook....read by Rachel Kushner

I didn’t even consider this book when it first popped up. “Telex From Cuba” was a little too politically dense and long. There was a good story inside - but I remember the time & effort I put in - and wasn’t looking forward to ‘that’ experience again. Plus I have a paper copy of “The Flame Throwers” which I’ve started and stopped too many times. (the damn print is tiny)....
So - with low expectations - I downloaded the public library’s
...more
Debbie
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Debbie by: Angela M
When a friend asked me whether I liked the book I was reading, I told her, “It’s refreshing! A novel about women in prison!” I was dead serious. It was only after my friend was losing it, laughing so hard, that I realized how weird my comment was. Laughing now too, I tried to defend myself. I just get tired of straight old life; there’s so much “regular” out there. Can I help it if I like to read about down-and-outers? The truth is, the dark is sometimes my light—I prefer rain to sun, for ...more
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
I'm one to admit when I just do not get the hype on a book. This is one that I just did not jump on the train with. I am bit confused by it actually.


The majority of the book is about Romy, who has been sentenced to two life sentences for murdering her stalker. She is poor and worked as a stripper..so she basically stood no chance in the justice system.
This part of the book kept me interested. For some sicko reason prison type dramas are one of my favorite subjects...and it does not have to be
...more
Barry Pierce
Orange is the New Bleh.
Perry
The Mars Room is a provocative, raveworthy exploration of choices or, indeed, the absence of any perceived choice for adolescent and teen female criminals on the lower echelon of the socio-economic scale who grow up sexually abused, addicted to street drugs and/or engaged in a sex-related trade because they've had no choice in where, how and by whom they were raised, the adverse societal effects being the counterproductive institutionalization of a legion of women, their repetitive recidivism ...more
Esil
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Mars Room pushed all the right buttons for me. I liked Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, but this was something else altogether. Here Kushner uses her talent to extraordinarily potent effect. The story is set in the early 2000s, focused primarily on Romy Hall, who is in a women’s prison for life for murder. Kushner does a great job of showing the reality of Romy’s life — where she came from, how she got to prison, and her life in prison. There is no sugar coating. Romy’s life is harsh and she is ...more
Justin Tate
At first this seems like a monumental achievement; a masterful storyteller giving voice to the incarcerated. Difficult characters come to life in unexpected ways. They're complex, flawed, a little evil and a lot good. The writing--as in, the actual formulation of words--is truly impressive. About a third of the way in, however, it becomes abundantly clear that no plot will emerge and the same old theme will be sung many times over. The edgy characters lose their edge, and the mystery of how ...more
Meike
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-mbp, usa, 2018-read
Rachel Kushner writes about mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, and she does it by looking at the individuals who make up that mass, and the singular rules and facilities that constitute the bigger complex. Novels about the poor, about drug addicts and the disenfranchised always run the risk to use their protagonists as mere devices in order to illustrate societal problems (even Brecht often did that), but Kushner gives her characters dignity and complexity. She excuses nothing ...more
Brandice
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I’m bummed to say that I didn’t enjoy The Mars Room. It seems to be one of those books where people like it or they don’t, with little middle ground. Unfortunately I’m in Camp Don’t on this one.

The story begins with a young woman, Romy Hall, who is on a bus ride to a new prison in California. Prior to prison, she was a stripper at The Mars Room, and is a single mom with one son, Jackson. While I did appreciate the true, unpleasant realities of prison life that were described, I had a hard time
...more
Trish
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, crime, america
Rachel Kushner’s novels defy categorization. Her work reads easily but has a complexity that resists summation. She breaks rules and changes minds. This novel is both heavy and light at the same time, like a women’s prison in the Central Valley of California is tragic and absurd. Only for the untethered is it the joke it sometimes appears.

Kushner is for adults. She talks about sex and violence in a way that only adults will understand. Deviance is something else. Criminality is different again.
...more
Zoeytron
Let me out! I don't want to read this book any more. Not quite halfway through, I guiltily add it to my scant DNF shelf. I neither liked nor disliked the characters, and the way it was put together seemed disjointed to me.

I am aware of the extensive research, time, and effort on the author's part in writing this book, and I do respect that. As an aside, it tickled my funny bone for there to be a character by the name of Laura Lipp who never stopped talking.
...more
Norma * Traveling Sister ~ Semi-hiatus for now until I fully get my reading/reviewing hat on! 😂 I’m almost there! 💕
3.5 stars!

I received an ARC from a Goodreads Giveaway of THE MARS ROOM by RACHEL KUSHNER. Thank you so much! I thought this was a very good read and I’m glad that I read it! I think it’s definitely worth the read!

Even though this book was a little structurally & mentally challenging for me to read there was something about it that had me glued to those pages. When I wasn’t reading this one, I was thinking about it. It got under my skin, I was interested in Romy and the details behind her
...more
BlackOxford
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, favourites
Hustling for Every Little Thing

Real power is the power to humiliate. Humiliation requires the participation of the victim. Participation in humiliation is what allows coercive society to exist. Armies, religions, prisons are examples notable not for their differences from what is ‘normal’, but rather for the norms they make obvious. To say it plainly: to be human is to be humiliated, including those who are in power, who are mostly men.

Children are humiliated as a matter of cultural routine. If
...more
Marchpane
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For some reason I had a preconceived idea that The Mars Room would be a po-faced social commentary loosely shaped into a novel. Expecting a lecture, I got a guttural roar. Not to mention a ‘stayed up all night to finish it’ compulsive read.

Comparisons to Orange is the New Black (the show, not the book) are apt, but only to a point. Where that show often adds levity in the form of goofy comedy and prison romance, The Mars Room avoids sensationalism and displays much blacker humour and a grimmer
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is a strong case of "it's not you, it's me." I have tried to read and like Rachel Kushner before, back when I read The Flamethrowers when it was the it book of the season. In the case of that book, what lingers is the description of the motorcycle crossing the salt flats, but at no point did I connect to the plot or characters. And unfortunately we are here again. I've read almost 40% but just need to acknowledge that it isn't working for me, as I've been reading other books in the breaks ...more
Kelli
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this book structurally challenging, emotionally distant, and intentionally didactic. I’ve hit a rough patch with popular books recently, so I tried to ignore how disjointed this felt (and how disinterested I was) but in the end, it’s a 2.5 for me.
j e w e l s
THREE STARS

Usually, I steer clear of audiobooks that are read by the author. Because....uggggh! Writers should write and actors should read. In this case, I'm so glad I took the chance.

Author Rachel Kushner read her novel aloud in such a sweet, vulnerable and sincere voice that you can't help but fall in love with her. Ironically, the story she is reading is harsh, unblinking and completely unsentimental. The contrast definitely works.

I wish I could say I fell in love with the book, but I
...more
Hugh
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

My ninth book from the longlist is perhaps the most difficult to assess. In normal circumstances the Californian prison system would not be a subject I would choose to read about, but I did find quite a lot to like in this book.

The central story of Romy, a lap dancer and mother of a young boy, who is jailed for life for attacking a stalker she finds on her doorstep, is powerful and moving. Her story is interleaved with the stories of many other prisoners,
...more
Gumble's Yard
Now shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize,

This probably represened the most hyped and predictable book on a longlist which largely avoided the expected and established literary choices in favour of readability, the inclusion of new genres/media and a theme of a “world on the brink”.

It is a book whose first chapter ends with a startling image, for me perhaps the most powerful of the longlist. As a prisoner is en route to serving two consecutive life sentences and reflecting on what bought
...more
Ron Charles
More than a week before the release of Rachel Kushner’s new novel, “The Mars Room,” the New York Times published an excerpt in a special 12-page section. Hauntingly illustrated and spiced with artsy pull-quotes, it was an extraordinary presentation designed to proclaim the advent of an extraordinary book. Indeed, a Times book critic followed up with a review calling “The Mars Room” “a major novel.”

Which may be the problem with this bleak tale about people trapped in the American prison system. “
...more
Trudie
This is arguably the superstar novel on this years Man Booker longlist, a book I would happily see win but doubt will do so, principally because I don't think the British can handle a third year shut out of their own prize ;) ( Although, as an impartial observer, that outcome would amuse me).

Booker politics aside, I thought this novel held up well to the hype and critical praise it is receiving. Its probably good to point out the review from Dwight Garner in the NYT, which I really admired and
...more
Neil
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-booker, 2018
UPDATE:

When I first read this book, several months before it was long listed and then shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, I did not enjoy it. I found it haphazard. Read my review below for my thoughts at that time.

Then the discussions opened up on GR once it was on the Booker list. I came to a view that perhaps I had misread the book. I decided that if it made the shortlist, I would re-read it.

I have now done this.

If you have not read the book yet, my suggestion is that you stop here as I
...more
Dianne
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting look at incarceration. It’s set up as the life story of Romy Hall, a stripper at The Mars Room and single mother of a young son, Jackson. Romy’s story starts with her bus ride, in chains and shackles, to the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California where she will be serving two life sentences. Kushner gradually knits Romy’s backstory together, alternating between Romy and other characters associated with Romy, both within and outside of the prison.

The sordid
...more
Mwanamali
He had in his mind something that Nietzsche had said about truth. That each man is entitled to as much of it as he can bear.

It’s often in the best interests of your emotional well-being to read a New Yorker short story with absolutely no expectations to get your heart massaged and your feelings coddled.

They are batshit crazy and unbelievably well written. Honestly, reading them is usually an exercise (for me) in ego maintenance. Because every time I read them I am awed by the storytelling,
...more
Maxwell
Life is brutal. And the life we lead is directed by choices we make and often sacrifices, which are choices in and of themselves, lead us down paths that make us feel helpless, out of control; ironic when a choice you make leads to that state of helplessness. Rachel Kushner examines that 'control' and does so excellently in this novel. Looking at the prison system is one way of examining control—where everything is rigid and pre-determined, leaving its members with no will. But on a larger scale ...more
Canadian
Jul 10, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
This is a grim narrative written a flat, dead tone. Its central focus is a 29-year-old female inmate who has been sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus six years in a California prison for the murder of her stalker, Kurt (“the Creep”) Kennedy. Romy Leslie Hall’s unfit, perpetually depressed mother had named her after the film-star daughter of a German actress acquainted with Hitler. With this less-than-auspicious moniker marking her from the start, Romy proceeded to grow up in neglect ...more
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Around the Year i...: The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner 1 17 Feb 07, 2019 04:03PM  
The Mookse and th...: 2018 Booker Shortlist: The Mars Room 86 158 Oct 13, 2018 04:28PM  
Play Book Tag: The Mars Room - Rachel Kushner - 2 stars 6 26 Sep 04, 2018 07:41PM  
ManBookering: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner 29 149 Sep 02, 2018 04:28PM  
Play Book Tag: The Mars Room - Rachel Kushner, 3 Stars 8 25 Aug 24, 2018 11:39PM  

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Rachel Kushner is the only writer to ever be nominated for a National Book Award in Fiction for both a first and second novel. She began her Bachelor’s in Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley when she was only sixteen and went on to obtain an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She published her first novel, Telex from Cuba, in 2008. Kushner has edited for ...more
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“A man could say every day that he wanted to change his life, was going to change it, and every day the lament became merely a part of the life he was already living, so that the desire for change was in fact a kind of stasis that allowed the unchanged life to continue, because at least the man knew to disapprove of it, which reassured him not all was lost.” 13 likes
“The word violence was depleted and generic from overuse and yet it still had power, still meant something, but multiple things. There were stark acts of it: beating a person to death. And there were more abstract forms, depriving people of jobs, safe housing, adequate schools. There were large-scale acts of it, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a single year, for a specious war of lies and bungling, a war that might have no end, but according to prosecutors, the real monsters were teenagers like Button Sanchez.” 6 likes
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