Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Room is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack who seems like a perfectly normal little boy. He loves Dora the Explorer and spaceships made out of cardboard, hates green beans, and plays imagination games with his Ma. The difference is that he and his mother are prisoners inside a tiny room built into the shed belonging to their abductor. Ma, whose name we never learn, was kidnapped as a young college student and has spent seven years in the room. She has created as normal a life for Jack as possible, telling him stories, teaching him reading and math, having a routine to their day. When the creepy night time visits from Old Nick, her abductor, happen, Jack is tucked away into a closet where Nick cannot see or touch him. Ma wants to protect Jack from him at all costs.
Jack has never left the room and as far as he knows, there's nothing out there. His whole world is the room and the sun that comes in from the skylight. It's obvious that Ma has worked on escaping over the years. She has a bad wrist from one attempt and she and Jack play the screaming game once a week. Old Nick is too thorough, however, and they are stuck. But shortly after Jack's fifth birthday, Ma comes up with an escape plan and Jack is the key.
If you're going to read the book, I don't want to spoil how they successfully escape. Their time spent in the room is only the first half of the book and in some ways, their recovery and celebrity after they escape is more gut-wrenching. Jack has many developmental problems from having spent his entire life inside such a small space. He has no long-range vision and his spatial reasoning is seriously messed up. His skin is extremely sensitive to sunlight and just being outside is overwhelming to him, with all the wind and noise and environmental newness. But he is bright, an avid reader and quick to catch on to his new surroundings. Part of his problems with being out in the world is that the room was his home and he wishes that Ma would take them back there. Ma is repulsed by his insistence that they go back and I couldn't help sharing her feelings, but I could understand why Jack wanted to go back. It's the only home he's ever known and he was happy there.
In part of their celebrity status, Ma agrees to a tv interview. She has worked hard to protect Jack from the media, but realizes that an interview could help save some money for his education. The exchange between her and the interviewer was fascinating, especially what questions she is asked and how she reacts to them. I found myself cheering Ma on, internally defending her actions during what must have been horrific conditions. When Ma loses her temper and stops the interview, I don't blame her one bit.
I found Room to be simultaneously fascinating and awful. It wasn't graphic, probably because it's told from Jack's perspective, but the whole basis of the story is like something out of a nightmare. As Jack finds more out and learns more about his mother, you can't help but mourn his innocence that is ripped away from him. The way that Donoghue ends the book was perfect and I'm glad she didn't do it any differently because it felt like natural closure. I'll never read this book again because my heart can't take it, but I'm not sad I edged out of my comfort zone a few feet to give it a try.