Thursday, July 14, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Imagine a world where your entire existence occurs in an 11x11 room--and you don't know that there's any other way to live.  That is the premise of Emma Donoghue's "Room," a compelling story told from the eyes of a five year old child who, unbeknownst to him, has lived in captivity his entire life.  

When we first meet Jack, our narrator, he is celebrating his fifth birthday.   We soon learn that his mother (known only as "Ma") was kidnapped seven years before by "Old Nick."   Ma has made an incredible life for Jack notwithstanding the limitations.   From Jack's perspective, their lives are very full.  "We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back on her saucer on Dresser."  (One of the brilliant pieces of Donoghue's writing is that the name of each inanimate object in Room is capitalized, as if each is a friend.) 

Jack and Ma have a daily routine that includes activities like Phys Ed (where they move the furniture and do Track or jump on Bed for Trampoline) and playing their own version of "Name That Tune."   At least twice a week they do Scream, where they stand as close to the skylight as possible and scream for help.

Not surprisingly, Jack and Ma have a relationship without many boundaries.  When Jack finds a spider web under Table, he thinks, "It's weird to have something that's mine-not-Ma's.  Everything else is both of ours... When I tell her what I'm thinking and she tells me what she's thinking, our each ideas jump into our other's head, like coloring blue crayon on top of yellow that makes green."   

I don't want to tell you much more about this book because the story should unfold for each reader.  When I mentioned to anyone that I was reading "Room," they would inevitably ask whether I was enjoying it.  "Enjoy" does not seem like an appropriate adjective to use, given the story line.  I do, however, recommend "Room" without reservation.  Donoghue's writing draws you into a story which, while disturbing, is also thought provoking and touching.    Sadly, with the recent press coverage of Jaycee Dumard's life in captivity, it also seems like a timely read.  In any event, I'm certain that this is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time to come. 

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