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Fixed on Fiction

The Mars Room

In November, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner-

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall 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: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

-Summary courtesy of Goodreads.

The Mars Room received 6 thumbs up votes, 2 so-so, and three thumbs down. Here are some of the initial comments readers made while explaining their votes-

  • Thumbs up. A glimpse into something alien to me. In fact, the title is so perfect. This whole situation and characters were alien to me.
  • Thumbs up. You think it’s another prison novel, but there’s so many unique themes. No individuality in the prison system- they’re all treated the same. Broken and damaged power relationships: dancers and clients, teacher and student, victim and stalker. Grim with breaks of humor. This could only be set in California- squalor and sunniness.
  • I didn’t like it at first, but then I started really enjoying the story. I learned a lot about my own bias right away. I judged her unfairly and decided who she was before I gave her a chance.
  • I didn’t expect to like this. At first I thought I didn’t want to know this much about stripping and prison, but then the story unfolded. I loved the various settings. I loved including the Unabomber diaries. I think it’s part of our DNA to form a family, even in prison.
  • I couldn’t help but like it, but I found it extremely depressing. I thought it was, sadly, very real. Social hierarchy in a jail setting was so realistic.
  • I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like how it was written. Choppy.
  • I didn’t mind the writing style. We clearly need to invest more in education. But it was just too depressing.
  • Dismal but it makes me thank god I’m not in jail. I couldn’t exist in jail. If Romy had any support she wouldn’t have had two life sentences.
  • Mixed feelings. None of these stories wrapped up and I did not like the ending. It was so abrupt. Well written but choppy.
  • I wanted to like it but I had a really hard time with the choppiness of it. Interesting individual stories but I wasn’t really invested in any of the characters.

Feel free to share additional thoughts on The Mars Room in the comments below. 

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