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The Mars Room
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2018 Longlist [MBP] > The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

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Maxwell (welldonebooks) | 375 comments Mod
This thread is for discussion of The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Please be considerate of spoilers when posting your thoughts. Either use the spoiler tag or make it clear at the top of your comment that you will be posting specific details of the story.

Happy reading & discussing!


Robert | 363 comments My review of The Mars Room (spoiler free)

https://deucekindred.wordpress.com/20...


Meike (meikereads) This is a great book, its place on the longlist is well-deserved!

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.

I really admired the narrative voices Kushner created: They feel real, sharp and acute, and the way she shines a light on certain situations and places from different viewpoints effortlessly illustrates how perceptions differ regarding where you come from and what your current role is.

Here's my review.


Neil | 511 comments I know Robert and Meike loved this, but I struggled with it. I found it disjointed (I still don't know why the Unabomber appears). Meike's review did a great job of explaining how it hangs together, so you should probably go with what she and Robert say. But it didn't work for me.


message 5: by Britta (new) - added it

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
I dnf-ed this a while ago, as had happened with previous Kuchner-novels, the writing was not my style and I thought the story was messy. Clearly, Rachel Kushner is just not for me. I dont think I will pick this up again. At least not right now. Maybe if it wins...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer In terms of the messy and disjointed structure a lot of that I think flows from the (possibly over) ambitious aims the author set herself here

I have tried to set out what I think drove her to make her choices and my thoughts on what I think is a powerful opening image and powerfully ambiguous closing sentence in my review here

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I would welcome comments on the review which I spent longer writing than reading the book!


message 7: by Britta (last edited Aug 02, 2018 09:54AM) (new) - added it

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
@Gumble's Yard: This is the comment I wrote under your review but I thought I paste it to this discussion site as well, for our group:

If I had liked the book half as much as your review I wouldn't have dnf-ed it. (FYI: dnf meant, after about a third, I skipped or skim-read large chunks). And even though you obviously see more in the book than I did, I think you also pointed out one of its major flaws: the book just wants too much. If it had been trimmed down, focussing on Romy and her life, it might have been a good book. For me, there was too much social commentary disguised as plot and not enough story or character depth. For example, I could understand the inclusion of the Kaczynski-diaries from the standpoint of social commentary but in the novel it didnt make sense (at least it didnt for me).

My main problem, however, (apart from the ending) was that Kushner tried too hard to give reasons for people's behavior, tried too hard to explain everything and make their actions understandable. As if Romy's past and her 'negative' experiences just HAD to lead straight to the Mars Room and also to the crime she committed. And I dont mean that from Romy's point of view you wouldn't ask yourself: "If only I hadn't done this or had avoided that." I mean the way Kushner presents Romy's life as a whole. It's too logical and too deterministic to feel real. Plus: Kushner was telling me that feeling sympathy for Romy was ok because, looking at her life, she was worthy of that sympathy. This is the kind of superficial 'do-gooder'-attitude that I find hard to stomach in real life and in a novel it makes things very uninteresting for me. Sometimes people just make bad choices and there is no explanation for them. And they still deserve to be treated like a human being. I would have appreaciated the book much more if Romy hadn't basically been 'innocent'. As a criminal lawyer, I often found that many people 'outside' the criminal law system couldn't handle the fact that you won't always be able to explain everything or be able to understand exactly why it happened and that people were only willing to forgive a crime if you could come up with a good reason. But maybe thats just the lawyer talking...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer She definitely tries too much and I think you have almost added a sixth idea- her social commentary which is I think encapsulated in a passage when Gordon muses about the difference in societies treatment of stark forms of violence and more abstract ones, with (my words now but Kushner's views) both of them sanctioned by the state, but in the two different meanings of that word.

But I don't want to fault a book too much for ambition.


message 9: by Robert (last edited Aug 02, 2018 12:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robert | 363 comments Britta wrote: "@Gumble's Yard: This is the comment I wrote under your review but I thought I paste it to this discussion site as well, for our group:

If I had liked the book half as much as your review I wouldn'..."


But it's just a story: A work of fiction :) - In no way is The Mars Room supposed to reflect real life.If Rachel Kushner said The Mars Room is an actual portrayal of Prison systems then yes, by all means, we can criticise her for being inauthentic. Yes there are elements as GY stated in his excellent review but these have been twisted to suit the guise of a novel. As I librarian, I see loads of stereotypes when writers portray libraries but that doesn't make me put down the book or hate on it for that because I understand that it's just to suit the book.


message 10: by Britta (last edited Aug 02, 2018 02:18PM) (new) - added it

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
@Robert: I think you misunderstood my comment. And I didnt 'hate on' the book. I just didnt think it was good.


message 11: by Nadine (last edited Aug 02, 2018 03:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nadine (nadinekc) | 7 comments Britta wrote: "...Kushner was telling me that feeling sympathy for Romy was ok because, looking at her life, she was worthy of that sympathy. This is the kind of superficial 'do-gooder'-attitude that I find hard to stomach in real life and in a novel it makes things very uninteresting for me. Sometimes people just make bad choices and there is no explanation for them. And they still deserve to be treated like a human being...."

Hmmm, I think your 'people just make bad choices' idea is exactly what Romy says, in one of the last lines of the book:

"The lie of regret and of life gone off the rails. What rails. The life is the rails. It is its own rails and it goes where it goes. It cuts its own path. My path took me here."

I get annoyed by "do-gooderism" too, but I just don't see it in this book.


Robert | 363 comments I was just exaggerating :)


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Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
Nadine wrote: "Britta wrote: "...Kushner was telling me that feeling sympathy for Romy was ok because, looking at her life, she was worthy of that sympathy. This is the kind of superficial 'do-gooder'-attitude th..."

How interesting! I interpreted the line you quoted in exactly the oppostie way... Much to think about!


message 14: by Britta (new) - added it

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "I was just exaggerating :)"

No worries. :-)


message 15: by Nadine (last edited Aug 03, 2018 09:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nadine (nadinekc) | 7 comments Britta wrote: "How interesting! I interpreted the line you quoted in exactly the oppostie way... Much to think about! "

Yes! I keep reading over your post to see where and why we diverge. This is great mental exercise ;)


Maxwell (welldonebooks) | 375 comments Mod
I ended up really enjoying this book, but I can't pinpoint why. I can totally see all the criticisms of it too though. It was all over the place and overly ambitious, but the writing was sharp and I enjoyed all the perspectives which had very unique styles. It was powerful to read but difficult at times. But I don't want to over-analyze it right now since my book club will be meeting soon to discuss IRL :) I can hopefully share some more insight after that.


message 17: by Corey (last edited Aug 13, 2018 01:47PM) (new) - added it

Corey | 72 comments This was a solid read for me as well. I can understand why it made it on the list based on tone and writing style. I was reading a library copy, but there were times I wished I could underline passages and quotes.


message 18: by Neil (new) - rated it 2 stars

Neil | 511 comments Corey, in those cases, I use my phone to photograph the page and then mark up the photograph. Helpful for writing reviews, too.


message 19: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 151 comments Just realised I didn't comment on this when I finished the book last week. I am somewhere between the extremes. I loved the first 100 pages and there were sections later that gripped me, but I did think it was too long, tried to do to much and to be honest got a little boring in the second half.


message 20: by Corey (new) - added it

Corey | 72 comments Neil wrote: "Corey, in those cases, I use my phone to photograph the page and then mark up the photograph. Helpful for writing reviews, too."

Neil, yes I've done that a few times!


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments I just bought this on audible (under $13) as I found the comments so far interesting.


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) Barbara wrote: "I just bought this on audible (under $13) as I found the comments so far interesting."

I also read it on audiobook. I'm interested to know if anyone else did too and how what you thought about it (both the book and the audiobook's quality). :-)


Dianne (derbyrock) | 5 comments I went the audible route and hesitated to comment for that reason. Rachel Kushner narrates, and her voice put me almost immediately to sleep. She is a poor narrator giving the same inflection to almost every sentence. I didn’t like the book at all but wondered if I didn’t make a fair comparison. If it makes the short list I will probably read it.


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) That's how I felt as well, Dianne. (Although I did start reading it in physical format and decided to try it on audio to see if I liked it better, so overall I just don't think the book was for me).


Michael | 11 comments -“Maybe guilt and innocence were not even a real axis. Things went wrong in people’s lives.”

I have been churning this one around since I finished it. At first I was a bit annoyed that the author didn't make me care very much for any of these characters. I felt that, as the reader, I was meant to witness these events and my concern or any other feeling I might have was unneeded, unwanted even. The quote above seems to sum up the crux of the overall structure. Things went wrong, and then keep going wrong and different people deal with the wrong in different ways. When things go really wrong, society deals with it by imposing this flawed rehabilitation system on those people, but from their perspective, it's just more of the same.
A friend of mine said that she is going to skip this one because she had heard that it "f***s you up." When I was halfway through the book I texted her, "This book will f*** you up, but every word rings true so-far." It is certainly not without flaws, as all novels are, and for me it is a 3-star review, but it is well written and I believe it contains truth. I will not be surprised if it makes the short list. Five books in and I don't have a favorite yet.


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments I loved Kushner's narration and will say that I tend to be pretty critical of narrators. I didn't even know she was the narrator until I had started, liked the narration and checked. But we all have our preferences.

I gave this 5 stars. I love books about the American underclass for complicated reasons. I wish I'd had a physical copy because at times there were sentences that were simple but captured the essence of her point so well. At the risk of making an inaccurate comparison, they struck me as zen-like, and I felt a frisson like the kind a perfect haiku can produce in me.

But this is a book full of violence and sex and too much of both perhaps. It is not for everyone. But it struck a chord in me.


Keriann (kad123) Meh I am finding this list so disappointing! this was another book I ended up giving two stars....there was just too much going on for me, I would have much rather it focused on Romy's s story rather than all the rest, I didn't like all the flipping prospectives, I found myself confused a lot of the time with who was talking and where we were in the story, there was one section where we went from third to first person and I was so confused with who was talking!! this book didn't quite work for me I'm afraid.


Nadine (nadinekc) | 7 comments Barbara wrote: "...at times there were sentences that were simple but captured the essence of her point so well. At the risk of making an inaccurate comparison, they struck me as zen-like, and I felt a frisson like the kind a perfect haiku can produce in me..."

I also loved Kushner's writing style. She has these scorpion tail sentences that look innocent enough as you read along, and zing you at the end. Because I liked her writing so much, in my GR review I pulled out some quotes that illustrate the what and why.


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments Nadine wrote: "Barbara wrote: "...at times there were sentences that were simple but captured the essence of her point so well. At the risk of making an inaccurate comparison, they struck me as zen-like, and I fe..."

I love the scorpion analogy!


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