The Mars Room: A Novel (Hardcover)

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“Rachel Kushner writes some seriously smart and gorgeous prose, so when she headed to prison in The Mars Room, I went. It is dark. It is painful. At times, the level of detail in the book and its fabulously invented and drawn characters make it feel like a documentary. We are struggling with so many social justice issues across the country right now it is overwhelming, and I worried that The Mars Room would push me over the edge. Instead, I couldn't stop reading. What really happened? Who is to blame? How will things turn out? How can we make things better? Ultimately, Kushner's great success is profoundly illustrating a very simple message: It's complicated.”
— Sara Hinckley, Hudson Booksellers, Marietta, GA




“Gritty, empathetic, finely rendered, no sugary toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled.” —Margaret Atwood via Twitter

“A page turner… one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart.” —The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Brilliant and devastating… a heartbreaking, true, and nearly flawless novel.” —NPR

“With her richly textured third novel, Kushner certifies her place as one of the great American novelists of the 21st century.” —Entertainment Weekly

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.”

Praise For…

“Like Denis Johnson in ‘Jesus’ Son,’ Kushner is on the lookout for bent moments of comic grace…The Mars Room is a major novel.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

The Mars Room affirms Rachel Kushner as one of our best novelists…her stories slink in the margins, but they have the feel of something iconic.”—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Kushner is a woman with the chops, ambition and killer instinct to rub shoulders with all those big, swinging male egos who routinely get worshipped as geniuses.”—John Powers, Fresh Air

“[A] tough, prismatic and quite gripping novel…wholly authentic…profound…surprisingly luminous.”—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"A searing, tragic look at life in the prison-industrial complex, covering poverty, sex work, mass incarceration, education, trauma, suffering, love, and redemption. Somehow, Kushner's rapid-fire, imaginative prose makes it seems effortless.”Vogue

“Kushner is a masterful world-creator, and her accomplishment here is unparalleled.”Nylon

“Kushner’s writing and thinking are always invigorating, urgent, and painterly precise.”—Vulture

“Stunning… a gorgeously written depiction of survival and the absurd and violent facets of life in prison.” Buzzfeed

 “Reading The Mars Room is a profoundly affecting experience, very nearly overwhelming, and yet it absolutely must be read. Kushner’s first two novels (Telex from Cuba, The Flamethrowers) were National Book Award finalists. It would be baffling if The Mars Room does not win this year’s.” —Cory Oldweiler, amNewYork

[A] stunning new book… Kushner deploys the masterful storytelling she’s known for…an unmistakable voice. “—Town and Country

“Uniquely informed, empathetic…an addictive novel, laced throughout with a bracing intelligence…this is an extraordinary book.” —Joshua Ferris

“The whole history of the novel is alive in Rachel Kushner's hands, making her an indispensable contemporary. I look to her books to see what fiction can do now.” —Ben Lerner

The Mars Room is mysterious and irreducible. The writing is beautiful—from hard precision to lyrical imagery, with a flawless feel for when to soar and when to pull back.” —Dana Spiotta

“Brilliant and devastating…Kushner does a masterful job evoking the isolation and hopelessness intrinsic to a life behind bars…Kushner's greatest accomplishment in The Mars Room is the character of Romy…The other characters are all perfectly rendered as well…Kushner doesn't make a false move in her third novel; she writes with an intelligence and a ferocity that sets her apart from most others in her cohort. She's a remarkably original and compassionate author, and The Mars Room is a heartbreaking, true and nearly flawless novel.”—Michael Schaub,

 “[Rachel Kushner is] one of the most gifted novelists of her generation—on the same tier as Jennifer Egan and the two Jonathans, Franzen and Lethem…[The Mars Room is] a page turnerblackly comic…Part of Kushner’s achievement here is that she makes this character, for all her shortcomings, so appealing…It’s one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart, and in its passion for social justice you can finally discern a connection between all three of Kushner’s novels…In The Mars Room, the neglected become the focus, and it’s apparent that Kushner’s imagination, almost Dickensian in its amplitude, also embraces some of Dicken’s reformist zeal…so powerful and realistic you come away convinced that all…escapes are illusory, and that even for those who get out, prison is still a life sentence.”—Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review (Cover Review)

“Gorgeous…The Mars Room sings.” —Sasha Frere-Jones, Bookforum

“A revelatory novel about women on the margins of society…it’s a true feat of Kushner’s extraordinary writing that such profound ugliness can result in such tumultuous beauty.”—Maris Kreizman, Vulture

“Stunning…Heartbreaking and wholly original.” Bustle

“A probing portrait of contemporary America.”Entertainment Weekly

“Unflinching.” Elle

“Kushner’s great gift is for the evocation of a scene, a time and place.” —Harper’s 

“This essential novel is about women ignored or denigrated or discounted in our society, and the adult men who obsess over them and abuse them and abet their self-destruction. Kushner is a bit of a magician, exploring bleak territory with pathos and urgency that makes it nearly impossible to stop reading.”AM New York

“Much of the action of Rachel Kushner’s brilliant new novel is set in California prisons…But the moral scope of The Mars Room is really too large for it to be considered a prison novel. Through its vividly rendered characters, it asks the reader to ponder bigger questions—Dostoyevskian questions—about the system of justice, the possibility of redemption and even the industrialization of the natural landscape…Kushner is both tough and darkly funny in writing about her characters’ situations, and she writes not so much for us to empathize with them, but rather to understand them. The Mars Room is a captivating and beautiful novel.”BookPage

Kushner is back with another stunner…without a shred of sentimentality, Kushner makes us see these characters as humans who are survivors, getting through life the only way they are able given their circumstances.” Library Journal

“Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers was one of the best books of 2013 and its predecessor, Telex from Cuba, earned the Los Angeles-based writer her first National Book Award nomination. Unlike Kushner's first two books, The Mars Room is set in 21st-century America, at a women's prison where Romy Hall is serving two life sentences. Kushner's writing is clipped and sharp, as she tells the story of Hall's adjustment to life behind bars — and how she got there.” The Week

“Absorbing… here’s what stands out most about the novel and what makes it unique. Like her first two books, National Book Award finalists Telex From Cuba and The Flamethrowers, The Mars Room is impeccably researched without ever seeming dry or preachy… insightful…authoritative…haunting.” — Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Kushner’s] best book yet, another big step forward.”—Jonathan Franzen, The Guardian

 “An enormously ambitious project profoundly rooted in a particular time and place… Kushner’s greatest achievement in this unique work of brilliance and rigor is to urge us all to take responsibility for the unconscionable state of the world in which we operate blithely every single day.”—Jennifer Croft, The Los Angeles Review of Books

 “[An] electrifying take on the chaos of 1980s San Francisco.”—Sloane Crosely, Vanity Fair

"Kushner’s got the talent to justify the hypeThe Mars Room builds to a redemption that comes from hard truth, sharp and broken and shaped by an author of exceptional power and grace.”—Jeff Baker, The Seattle Times

“Rachel Kushner cements her place as the most vital and interesting American novelist working today...The Mars Room makes most other contemporary fiction seem timid and predictable."—Michael Lindgren, The Millions

“The book is beautifully written, without sentimentality or agenda, and at times even [with] a sly and dark humor.” —Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“[Kushner is] an exceptionally talented and philosophically minded writer.” —Jessica Zack, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Potent…an incendiary examination of flawed justice and the stacked deck of a system that entraps women who were born into poverty…The Mars Room is more than a novel; it’s an investigation, an exercise in empathy, an eyes-wide-open work of art.” —Kelly Luce, Oprah 

“Phosphorescently vivid.”—Megan O’Grady, T Magazine

"A disturbing and atmospheric book...Ms Kushner makes the prison, and the world beyond its walls, vivid." The Economist

Superb and gritty… Kushner has an exceptional ability to be in the heads of her character."—Eve MacSweeney, Vogue

"A powerful undertow pulls the reader through the book. I didn’t consume it so much as it consumed me, bite by bite.."—Laura Miller, Slate ? 

Readers will savor every detail of Ms. Kushner’s descriptive passages, which bring ferocious beauty to even the ugliest surroundings." —Leigh Anne Focareta, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Kushner's characters are so authentic and vividly drawn that with each new novel, it’s easy to assume she’s tapped out. Yet in The Mars Room, she brings to life another remarkable heroine."—Time Magazine

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781476756554
ISBN-10: 1476756554
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Pages: 352
Language: English