The Mars Room

Rachel Kushner's novel explores the danger and absurdity of a women's correctional facility.

Rachel Kushner

It's 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at the 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 humour 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. (From Simon & Schuster)

From the book

Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays. Once a week the defining moment for sixty women takes place. For some of the sixty, that defining moment happens over and over. For them it is routine. For me it happened only once. I was woken at two a.m. and shackled and counted, Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W314159, and lined up with the others for an all-night ride up the valley.

As our bus exited the jail perimeter, I glued myself to the mesh-reinforced window to try to see the world. There wasn't much to look at. Underpasses and on-ramps, dark, deserted boulevards. No one was on the street. We were passing through a moment in the night so remote that traffic lights had ceased to go from green to red and merely blinked a constant yellow. Another car came alongside. It had no lights. It surged past the bus, a dark thing with demonic energy. There was a girl on my unit in county who got life for nothing but driving. She wasn't the shooter, she would tell anyone who'd listen. She wasn't the shooter. All she did was drive the car. That was it. They'd use license plate reader technology. They had it on video surveillance. What they had was an image of the car, at night, moving along a street, first with lights on, then with lights off. If the driver cuts the lights, that is premeditation. If the driver cuts the lights, it's murder.


From The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner ©2018. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Interviews

One of the most dynamic American novelists writing today, Rachel Kushner has a new novel, The Mars Room, which centres on a former stripper and single mother serving two life sentences in a California prison. 55:02