Tournament of Books discussion

162 views
2019 TOB Shortlist Books > The Mars Room

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Let's talk about it...


message 2: by Mike (new)

Mike | 16 comments A much stronger and more engaging novel than I anticipated, mostly due to my low expectations going in with a correctional institute setting. So glad to have finally read this author.


message 3: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 105 comments Mike wrote: "A much stronger and more engaging novel than I anticipated, mostly due to my low expectations going in with a correctional institute setting. So glad to have finally read this author."

Perhaps I needed to have lower expectations going into it. I had high expectations for it and found it to be a weak novel that I struggled to care about. It was a bit of a meandering mess that didn't seem to go anywhere. I was never quite sure what the point was.

I wonder if we had approached the novel with different anticipations if we'd feel differently.


message 4: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1087 comments I had high expectations and came away satisfied. I loved the different voices and characters, and felt engaged in the story throughout.


message 5: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 105 comments Jan,

I enjoyed Gordon's voice the most. I was sad that we got very little from him and that he just abruptly disappeared.

I'm still not sure how Doc's voice fit in with the others.


message 6: by Dianah (new)

Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Eh, I came away from this really unsatisfied. Nothing was resolved, and that was a big bummer. 😕


message 7: by Mike (new)

Mike | 16 comments Could not figure out what the girl (Romy) on the book cover was supposed to be holding in her hand??

Gordon’s character, representing the parallels between someone we celebrate, Thoreau, and someone doing life that we abhor, Ted K, I found an intriguing idea. Similarly I thought the story contrasted well, without berating the point, the often subtle line between those individuals doing the guarding at the prisons and those being guarded.

I do think my expectations going into a book probably influence how I feel and rate the book upon finishing. Another strong influence for me seems to be the books directly preceding and following the current read.


message 8: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 83 comments I too was disappointed ultimately. The writing was strong, but I couldn't get away from the feeling that all this narrative ground had already been covered in the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black. I know it's terribly unfair to compare work across two distinct media, but I couldn't shake the TV show throughout my reading experience.


message 9: by Gwendolyn (new)

Gwendolyn | 175 comments The Mars Room so perfectly created its world. The setting was detailed and realistic, and I feel like I understand what it would be like to be inside the California prison system. This is the primary accomplishment of this novel, in my opinion.

That said, the story seemed lacking. The narrative was more episodic than coherent. The author did such a fantastic job creating her world and then didn’t follow through with a substantial plot. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed being in that world while reading. It was an immersive experience.


message 10: by Kyle (new)

Kyle | 280 comments This has been my favorite so far as I've read them - while I agree that it did bring OitNB to mind, I felt there was real pathos in some situations and it had some really insightful thoughts. I wasn't expecting to like it - was not a fan of The Flamethrowers - but so far, I can't think of one I liked more.


message 11: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments I came in with low expectations and this book totally met them!

The setting was drawn well, yes, but it felt like every time Kushner ran out of something to say with one character she just jumped to another POV to pad out the story, whether or not it fit or added substance. I didn't feel like there was a point; I couldn't even locate a message about the helplessness / vulnerability of a person doing sex work or sex-adjacent work to the men who create self-serving narratives around her. It seemed like sometimes she was going for ire or feminist rage or some such emotion, but the narrative wasn't fully grounded.


message 12: by Michael (new)

Michael (grebmar) Melanie wrote: I couldn't even locate a message about the helplessness / vulnerability of a person doing sex work or sex-adjacent work to the men who create self-serving narratives around her.

As much as I hate the idea that fiction should be about 'messages,' what you quoted here seems to be a perfectly valid message that Kushner made quite well. Why do you think her approach to that theme failed?

I loved this book and thought it was quite powerful, though Kushner does tend to be a bit ambiguous with endings and motivations, and her prose is so good it often overshadows the emotions of her characters. I can see her turning people off, for sure.


message 13: by jo (last edited Jan 09, 2019 04:16PM) (new)

jo | 429 comments Melanie wrote: "I couldn't even locate a message about the helplessness / vulnerability of a person doing sex work or sex-adjacent work to the men who create self-serving narratives around her.

I’m glad that you are raising this substantive point, Melanie. I think Kushner covers this beautifully by landing Romy in prison with two life sentences solely because of the self-serving narrative of a stalker who drives her to murderous exasperation. I really liked the portrayal of the stalker's thoughts, btw (don’t remember his name). He sounds so innocent! Everything makes perfect sense to him. His incredulouslness when Romy attacks and kills him is so heartbreaking, because it brings home so strongly that there is no reasoning with someone in the grips of such obsession and we should all be grateful that (if) we are not the target of someone like this.

I have a wee bit experience with someone a bit stalkerish nowhere near this level of stalking and I went mad with rage.

Interestingly, Romy never rails about him. She pleaded guilty and that is that.

Also about your point, Romy and the other sex workers in the book feel far from helpless and vulnerable in general. They are portrayed as strong, smart, and in charge of their lives, and this resonated with me in spite of the fact that I am a total monogamous nerd and the farthest thing from a sex worker lol.


message 14: by Ruthiella (last edited Jan 09, 2019 05:24PM) (new)

Ruthiella | 362 comments For me the take-away from The Mars Room (which I really enjoyed as I have Kushner’s previous two novels as well) is whether or not the reader (who is presumably not incarcerated) needs to be assured of the guilt or innocence of her fellow humans who are in prison. The assumption from the start I think for most readers is that Romy received an unduly harsh sentence. But by the end of the book, I think that is called into doubt. And does it matter? Think of the prisoner who was pregnant and was treated abominably while giving birth. Does the reader feel differently about her when she finds out that the young woman beat a Chinese man to death as part of a robbery?


message 15: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 22, 2019 02:21AM) (new)

Elizabeth Arnold | 830 comments I'm about 40% in, and I'm absorbed in the book even though I'm not enjoying reading it. Despite the humor it's much too dark and depressing for sunless winter days.

The theme I'm getting from it so far is that there's really not much difference between these people and the people we know...Kaczynski is Thoreau plus childhood trauma or some issue we don't understand in his brain. Childhood makes us into the people we are, not some inherent evil. It's not a new or especially profound theme (I actually explored it in 3 of the books I've written) but it's an important one.

(As a sidenote, my daughter has behavioral issues due to her birth mother's drug and alcohol use, and I have such nightmares thinking about what might have happened if she'd been placed in a different kind of home. I think she's going to be just fine, but with her brain differences she easily could have been any of these women, because of something done to her before she was even born. Having that in the back of my mind is what haunts me most about this book.)

I'm not sorry to be reading this, even though I feel vaguely nauseous while I'm reading. The characters and writing are excellent, and I think it's important to understand this underside of the country. (This is making me more invested in the current efforts for criminal justice reform.)


message 16: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 130 comments Elizabeth Arnold wrote: "I'm about 40% in, and I'm absorbed in the book even though I'm not enjoying reading it. Despite the humor it's much too dark and depressing for sunless winter days.

The theme I'm getting from it s..."


I had very much the same reaction as you, Elizabeth. And I don't shy away from the themes covered or the ugly realities portrayed because of my own background and passions. But I still couldn't make myself finish listening to the audiobook. Maybe I've seen it too much, and too closely. If it helps educate others as to that underside, that is a good thing. Appreciate your thoughts on it.


message 17: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 886 comments I was nervous about this one going in. My job is to support people who are in prison (and their families) in Texas, so for me this story seemed perfect for an "own voice" opportunity, considering there are millions of people directly impacted by mass incarceration in the U.S. It's nice that the author spent 10 days in a jail for research, but jail is not the same as prison and I would love to see more formerly incarcerated people being the ones to make money and win awards through their writing about these issues. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row is one of my favorite nonfiction examples, and now I'm interested in finding (or encouraging) some fiction from FIP.

I do appreciate how the author brings these atrocities to light though, and showing the humanity in those who have done something terrible. It felt like a pretty accurate portrayal, and it's sad to think about what was going to happen to Romy's son, although most of us already know what happens to kids in the system. :(


message 18: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 130 comments Lauren wrote: showing the humanity in those who have done something terrible


I totally agree with your points, Lauren. I, too, worked with incarcerated people (kids), and thought I would like it more than I did. I removed the review I did because it didn't feel fair to rate something I had not finished. My reason for not wanting to read it seemed so personal, I didn't think it fair to the author to influence others regarding the quality of the book, which for many could be an eye-opening experience.


message 19: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 130 comments Lauren wrote: "I was nervous about this one going in. My job is to support people who are in prison (and their families) in Texas, so for me this story seemed perfect for an "own voice" opportunity, considering t..."

I loved The Sun Does Shine, also. And I wish he could benefit more from sharing his experiences. Fascinating read. Sadder than sad story.


message 20: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 481 comments I just finished and am not just what to make of it. At times I felt like it was pretty powerful. I liked what Ruthiella described - how it challenged the reader to question their sympathies or judgments with the female inmates. And I valued the glimpse into this world that is foreign to me. But it wasn't an enjoyable read for me. I don't usually shy away from tough subjects, but now I feel like reading something very light.


message 21: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Tittle | 49 comments I am totally squeamish when it comes to prison-related writing/film so I am glad I didn't know what this book was about before I opened it. I really liked it. I think Kushner has hit her stride and I'm glad she tackled this subject, and did it with such humanity. There were some clumsy aspects (Unabomber, bad cop, and some didactic writing that seemed almost pasted in) but I found the contrast between nature and man-made hell to be beautifully rendered. Kushner's last novel was not at all my cup of tea, and I don't like the toughness (a la Delillo or Bukowski) with which she tackles fiction. But when she (or her character) lets her guard down, the result is stunning and touching.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 581 comments Sarah wrote: "I am totally squeamish when it comes to prison-related writing/film so I am glad I didn't know what this book was about before I opened it. I really liked it. I think Kushner has hit her stride and..."

Nice review, thanks!!


message 23: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Lauren wrote: "jail is not the same as prison ..."

I cannot locate the interview, but Kushner has spent time visiting prisons and continues to visit people with whom she's developed a relationship. Doc was based on a corrupt cop that she met while touring a prison. I'll keep looking for the interview and will post it here.


message 24: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments I thought the book was brilliant and regretted that I had not read Kushner before. I'm slowly working my way through all of her books. The Flamethrowers is brilliant, and I'm looking forward to Telex from Cuba.


message 25: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Tittle | 49 comments There's a great profile in the New Yorker. Here's the link: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...


message 26: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Sarah wrote: "There's a great profile "

Thanks! This is what I mentioned in my post.


message 27: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 886 comments Thanks for sharing the article! It definitely boosts her credibility in writing about this subject; I'm glad she continues to support women in prison after the book was published.

I'm also now interested in her other books, especially Telex from Cuba. :)


message 28: by Ruthiella (last edited Feb 25, 2019 12:40PM) (new)

Ruthiella | 362 comments @Lauren and @Carmel: I just found out today on the Books and Authors podcast (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02n...) that Cherry by Nico Walker which was longlisted is by an incarcerated author. He is still in prison for bank robbery.


message 29: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 886 comments Ruthiella wrote: "@Lauren and @Carmel: I just found out today on the Books and Authors podcast (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02n...) that Cherry by Nico Walker which was longlisted is by an ..."

Interesting; I hadn't noticed that one. Thanks for sharing!


message 30: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 130 comments Ruthiella wrote: "@Lauren and @Carmel: I just found out today on the Books and Authors podcast (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02n...) that Cherry by Nico Walker which was longlisted is by an ..."

Thank you. I'll give it a look. I know at one point that one was considered for a group read, but lost out.


back to top