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Publisher's Summary

Featuring original music by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon! 

From twice National Book Award-nominated Rachel Kushner, whose Flamethrowers was called "the best, most brazen, most interesting book of the year" (Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine), comes a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. 

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. 

Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner's work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction "succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive." 

©2018 Rachel Kushner (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing novel !

From start to finish the novel is read like a stream of consciousness poetry reading at a hole in the wall nightclub. Kushner does such a great job of narration in this audible book, I’m worried I won’t be able to enjoy her other works, which are narrated by others. Given my own prior professional career I can say Kushner’s novel provides more insight into the mindset of those trapped in the modern day prison system than any book I’ve ever read. The amount of time she must have spent researching her novel is evident. So happy to have discovered such a talented writer and look forward to enjoying many more of her novels in the years to come.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Too bleak for me; well-written

I have mixed feelings about this "immersive" novel. Kushner has done her research, sharing some vivid details about life inside the California women's prison system, life as a sex worker, doing drugs and mostly living on the streets at a tender age. She shares those vivid details in the straightforward, unsentimental voice of her main character, Romy Hall, sentenced to two life sentences for killing her stalker. Kushner makes Romy's voice strong and sure, with no self-pity, and a fatalism that breaks the reader's heart from time to time. There are richly painted portraits of the other inmates and their feisty - or sad - ways. When one teenager gives birth in prison intake, the way she and her child are treated stain the United States with shame.

There are a couple of devices Kushner uses that don't work so well. One character has an obsession with the UniBomber, so excerpts from his diary appear. It breaks up the narrative, but for no good reason. Toward the end of the book, the murder victim tells his side of the story, but we have no attachment to him, and the placement is awkward.

My biggest challenge was that I almost gave up on the novel, it was so bleak. Being born poor, to a drug addict in the most expensive city in the U.S. is indeed bleak, so what was I thinking? I stuck with it because once inside the prison, the other characters and their life forces balanced the bleak portrayals of a rain-drenched, hungry childhood. But the Guardian got it right when it said: "This may not be an enjoyable novel, but it marks you like a tattoo." I'm just not sure I wanted to be marked.

Kushner herself narrates, and her tone and voice are pitch-perfect for Romy, who doesn't expect much from the world. The production would have been improved if there had been men reading the male voices.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Painfully beautiful story well delivered

I am wary of novels read by the author because not all gifted writers are also gifted orators. This was a layered and sparkling story with narration that was interesting and convincing.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Enters your brain - one time listen

This gripped me from the beginning. I could not stop listening. Unlike “You” and “Hidden bodies”, I felt no sympathy for the characters . I wanted too, but this is hardcore and I hope it will end up as a show because the “cool” chicks in “Orange is the new black” world not make it here a day.

Get ready to listen in one-sitting.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A Bleak Tale Done the Right Way

The Mars Room is a tale of hopelessness and despair. It is said that Kushner researched the California women's prison system for years while writing this novel, and her efforts are evident in the grim details of this tale of despair. The story provides a look into the lives of those who start out at a disadvantage from birth. It is a story about bad choices, about not having the mental capacity to avoid bad choices, and, ultimately, the result of bad choices. The Mars Room is well written and narrated by the author herself, and Kushner's style and voice is perfect for our doomed female stripper/prisoner/protagonist. This was my first read/listen from the Booker Long List this year.

Overall rating 4.29 stars

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Bleak

What must the Booker judges think of America?  Based on the books I'm reading,  they must have a bleak impression.

I didn't enjoy this book in the slightest.  I can't even say I appreciated it.  I can acknowledge that the book was structurally sound, and it's filled with important topics ones that fiction surely should explore.  Poverty's impact on opportunity, the prison, system, and of course treatment of women because ... always.

The book missed for me in a couple areas - I made no connection with the any of the characters, and I had little sympathy for any of them as individuals.  Second, I found the book to be emotionless.  I know we haven't posted our Sabrina review yet, but I was left with a similar hopelessness as with that book.  Things suck but life goes on.  That's hard for me.  I still have hope.  I want to believe that things are going to get better for people, especially prisoners (and poor people, and women ...)

I really don't need my tough subjects sugar-coated. I just think there was a way to tell this important story in a way that made me want to root for the downtrodden.

The audiobook was read by the author. I think that was a mistake. She sounded like Rosanna Arquette (I listened to another book narrated by her) and the result was not good. Also, the audio made it difficult to understand whose POV was happening in the story.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I can't think of any way this book could have been

As a great admirer of Kushner's previous novels I was expecting to love this and I did. Unflinching, unvarnished - like being inside the characters heads. A superb achievement. She did a wonderful job with the narration as well.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Ughhhh

I was so looking forward to this book but the voice drives me crazy. I tried but couldn't get past it.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Sad

I did not have any problem with the author narrating her own book. I did not have any difficulty distinguishing between characters or points of view. I do not regret listening to this book. It was dark and sad, but there are a lot of dark and sad stories that exist in our world. The criminal justice system is very flawed. I just wish there were something that I as an individual could do to help people, to help change the system. The story is dark but so lyrical in places. I feel rather guilty that I will be leaving these people behind to engross myself in lighter reading for my next book, just as we forget the people behind bars.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • cr
  • CA, USA
  • 12-05-18

Lackluster performance of a disjointed story

I really struggled through this one. The narration is monotone and the story is disjointed and never fully comes together. I don't think it deserves all the accolades it is getting. Over hyped in my opinion.