A good thriller is hard to find, and a solid political thriller is a rare bird indeed. This is not just a matter of coming up with enough plausible stuff to drive a plot along in a suspenseful manner, although Lorraine Adams is certainly capable on that front. As a former journalist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize-winner for the investigative work she did at Dallas Morning News, Adams has a unique insight into what makes a story credible.
But more importantly and certainly more interestingly, Adams demonstrates with The Room and the Chair, just as she did with her award-winning novel Harbor, that she can get inside a character’s head. The thing about Adams’ writing that makes it a clear cut above your run-of-the-mill political intrigue is a style of narration that portrays the free association game of logical leaps and conjectures that quick thinkers are accustomed to using to arrive at their very complicated judgments.
Jim McCabe does wonderfully acrobatic voice work in the dexterous collision of several different worlds. First we have “the room”, which refers to the maze of cubicles that comprise a major national newspaper’s editing room, a fast-paced place with which Adams is intensely familiar. The purpose of “the room” is to uncover what “the chair” is covering up. “The chair” is the leader of a covert federal agency responsible for an assortment of operations in the Middle East, a geopolitical landscape in this case involving two particularly human stories. One of those stories traces the career of an Air Force pilot who survived the mysterious crash of her aircraft over friendly territory. The other story traces the faked death and subsequent escape plans of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
Inside the heads of managing editors, their adulterous columnist wives, an assortment of clandestine operations agents and a few military personnel resides a deep well of calculation and psychological misgivings. McCabe captures each of these with a nuanced understanding of the survivalist mentality that those in such a political arena must possess. The story itself is a satisfying tale of the perils of waging war, but the real treasure both in the writing and in the listening is a hotbed of emotional speculation that lives inside each character to drive the story onward. Megan Volpert
An astonishingly original novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lorraine Adams, author of Harbor, winner of the LA Times Book Prize.
Here are fine-drawn, empathetic portraits of the often overlooked actors of America’s infinite global war: the ridiculed night editor of a prestigious newspaper, an overburdened nuclear engineer, a duty-bound female fighter pilot, a religiously impassioned novice reporter, a sergeant major thrust into the responsibilities of a secretive command. Their longings and loyalties take us, in the course of one shattering year, from a forested city park, where child prostitutes set up business, to a Dubai hotel, where a desperate man tries to disappear; from the nighttime corridors of Walter Reed Hospital to the snow-thickened mountains of the Hindu Kush.
Told in language as stunning for its beauty as for its verisimilitude, The Room and the Chair dazzlingly bends the conventions of literary suspense to create an unforgettable, groundbreaking chronicle of today's dangerous world.
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
What could Lorraine Adams have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?
Better plot and story.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
Narrator was very bad -- boring voice.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
Any additional comments?
I tried very hard to get in to this book, but just could not. It jumped around and the narrator was no help in deciphering when there was a change. His voice never changed.
Although some interesting views into the lives of people in possibly realistic scenarios (no way I would know), I found myself trying to find a point and failing. The author's style of dialogue left me wondering who the speaker was so I often lost the thread. Overall, I felt the story was unsatisfying.