Archive for the ‘choices’ Tag

Serving Time   Leave a comment

Author Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a strip joint in San Francisco, where Romy Hall once gave lap dances to support herself and her young son, Jackson. That’s before she’s sent to prison in California’s desolate Central Valley, where she’s sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for a crime that’s not immediately explained.

Most of the narration is Romy’s as she recounts her childhood, teenage years and life working as a stripper. These reflections are interspersed with her confinement. It may be almost impossible to think about women in prison without Orange is the New Black coming to mind. However, Kushner’s cell scenes are harsh, unsympathetic and dismal. Nonetheless, Romy is befriended by Sammy, a veteran inmate, Conan, a transsexual who’s very convincing as a male, and Gordon Hauser, a teacher who recognizes Romy’s intelligence and beauty.

A few of the chapters are narrated by these friends. Doc, a crooked cop, imprisoned miles away, also provides a voice. Yet, it’s Romy with her sense of humor, dismay and maternal instincts who commands the pages. She has had to leave Jackson, in the care of her mother, which causes a number of complications for Romy.

Kushner blends pathos with the harsh reality of prison life. As one of the guards states, not just to Romy, but others, “… your situation is due one hundred percent to choices you made and action you took.” As we learn more about Romy and the other characters, it’s evident this is not entirely true.

The Mars Room
Four Bookmarks
Scribner, 2018
338 pages

That Sinking Feeling   Leave a comment

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally after finishing a book I’m uncertain
how I feel about it. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan leaves me ambivalent.
It’s an interesting premise: a group of 40 adrift after their ocean liner explodes
at sea. The year is 1914, so the event is sandwiched between the (unrelated) sink-
ing of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

Grace, newly married, is the narrator whose story is based on journals she is
asked by her attorneys to prepare after the fact. Perhaps some of my hesitance
to rave or rant lies in Grace. It’s clear as she relates how she came to marry her
her husband that she is a manipulator, if not an all-out gold digger. Few of the
characters act admirably in the adverse conditions, but remember Grace is tell-
ing the story. However, even she admits her memory is faulty, at best, from the
extreme conditions of being lost at sea for an extended period of time (at least
two weeks).

Where Rogan shines is descriptive writing: “The boat pitched and rolled as it
alternately climbed the foamy heights of the waves and then descended into hell-
ish troughs so that we were surrounded on four sides by walls of black water.”
It’s enough to keep me away from a boat of any size let alone one meant to save

Rogan’s boat is a metaphor for choices made and the motivation behind them.
The question I’m struggling to answer is if the idea’s strong enough to hold water?

Three Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2012
278 pages