Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility is Romy Hall’s new home, convicted to life sentence. What brought the mother of a young boy to this institution? And how can she cope with the rules that life in prison follows? Romy Hall remembers her life outside, her addiction and most of all The Mars Room where she stripped for a living. This is also where she met the man who was to change her life. Now, her life only consists of surviving, not getting in the way of the leaders or staff who have their own laws behind the bars. Life inside mirrors the outside, there are ruling classes and those ruled. And sometimes both spheres interact – often not for the better.
Rachel Kushner paints a blunt picture of life inside a prison. The idea of such a place as somewhere you can become a better person and atone for your wrongdoings is far from what she describes. It is a constant struggle of surviving and of adapting to the unwritten laws. Life is a series of disappointments, visitors who never come, news which do not reach you. And outside, there isn’t much waiting for you either.
It wasn’t that easy for me to sympathise with the protagonist Romy. This might be due to her role; even though she is inside, she remains an observer somehow. At the same time, there is so much unsaid about her that makes it difficult to form a whole picture of her. The fact that the reason for her imprisonment isn’t given immediately, on the other hand, adds to the underlying suspense of the novel. Slowly you get closer to the culminating point which reveals what happened. Additionally, the other characters are, obviously, those at the margins of society, people you wouldn’t actually socialise with and which sometimes repel you as a reader.
What I really liked is Kushner’s style of writing. The protagonist’s narration flows like a stream of consciousness which makes it quite realistic and lively. Furthermore, she often hints at what is to come without saying too much, just enough to arouse your interest. When Romy talks about her life and most of all about her future, she is quite direct – well, there isn’t much reason to embellish anything and therefore, her words sound absolutely authentic.