Novel of the week
The Mars Room
Rachel Kushner’s latest work “prowls rather than races,” said Dwight Garner in The New York Times. A major novel that spends most of its 300-plus pages inside a women’s prison, The Mars Room is “all about constriction”—about people whose destinies were largely foretold by their radically limited options and whose stories are now constrained by the alternative-universe setting. “It’s all here: the lice treatments, the smuggling of contraband in rectums and vaginas, the knifings, the cliques, the boredom.” And, despite “bent moments of comic grace,” Kushner, author of 2013’s The Flamethrowers, shows how such constriction is a form of evil. The narrator, an ex-stripper convicted of murder for killing a stalker, is smart and tough, said Madeleine Schwartz in The New York Review of Books. But as happens in protest novels, too many characters “come across more strongly as circumstances than as real people.” Until the final flashback, though, the novel is “a gorgeous, contemplative slow ride,” said Sasha Frere-Jones in Bookforum. “The last 30 pages are pure energy,” and they hit hard.