Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In and Out of Room

Sometimes a book review will draw me in, I'll buy the book, and then hesitate about starting to read it. Room by Emma Donoghue was just such a book. The premise was obviously inspired by a true story that surfaced not long ago--a young woman abducted and held for years against her will, giving birth in captivity--but the use of Jack, the five-year-old son who had never ventured out of the 11 X 11 room where he was born, as narrator certainly gave this novel a twist.

The book sat on my shelf, about eye level, and still I hesitated. Then after a couple of strong recommendations, I came across it in audiobook at the library. This version (a Hachette audiobook) used a young boy as Jack, but also incorporated other voices for Ma and other characters--and it worked.

I hesitate to say too much about the plot because it's a tale told in a way readers need to experience without too many preconceived notions. Too often, if I think I already know a plot, I am reminded just how much more there is to a good book that just plot. In this book, though, the plot peaks midway through the story, and just when I think I've reached the resolution, it takes a completely different turn. Since I was listening on my ride to and from work, I'll admit that at times, I wished I had taken the print copy along too, so that when I was forced to leave my car in the parking lot and go in to work, I could have at least sneaked a peak at what happens next. At times the suspense was killing me. I wanted to have what NPR tags "driveway moments."

Aside from the story, which made me care so much for the two main characters, the victims of a horrendous crime, I also found myself thinking so much about underlying issues the books subtly touches: our overwhelming abundance of possessions, the toll our national curiosity takes on survivors of such experiences, the complications in multigenerational relationships, particularly as marriage and remarriage come into play.

My favorite exchange in the novel occurs when the mother tells her psychiatrist, after the ordeal, that she sometimes wants to slap her mother. He asks if she ever wanted to slap her before the abduction. She laughs wryly and says, "Oh. I have my life back."

At its best, Donoghue's novel shows not only the resilience of the human spirit, but the capacity to make the best of what we have, creating the best world we can with what we have within our grasp.

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