Rachel Kushner, two time finalist for The National Book Award, has written a gritty, shocking and sad third novel. Romy Hall was doing drugs and having sex when she was twelve years old. Before she is put in prison after receiving two consecutive life sentences, she was a lap dancer at The Mars Room in San Francisco. Through her musings and the narrations of several other characters, including her teacher in prison and the man she murdered, we learn about Romy’s life before, during and after her incarceration. Her narrative voice, although undramatic, describes a life of hardship, danger, and poverty. Yet Romy doesn’t want to be pitied; she just wants to tell her story.
Kushner is a fine writer, but her descriptions of life in and out of prison are not pleasant. The Mars Room depicts the seamy side of life in the rawest way.