Jack is a five-year-old boy who enjoys doing everything a boy of that age does: color, watch his favorite shows on TV and play games. The difference with Jack? He and his mother, affectionately known as Ma, have been prisoners in a small 11×11′ shed, referred to as ROOM. Ma was abducted when she was a teen and impregnated by the man who captured her. Jack sleeps, closed up in a wardrobe, hidden from the eyes of the man who keeps them locked away. This man, who Jack refers to as Old Nick, provides them with the basics: food, water, & occasional “Sundaytreats.”
Ma does her best to provide for her son. She arranges games for him to play in their small confines. Empty egg shells become a snake when strung together. Jack gets his exercise by running around the bed. However, she knows that this isn’t the life for a little boy, who knows nothing of the outside world. They plan an escape; Ma is desperate to provide Jack with a chance to breathe fresh air, experience a “real” life. She remembers what life is like outside and is desperate to have that life once again.
However, once they make it outside, life isn’t necessarily any easier. Jack, never in contact with germs, is required to wear a mask to prevent him from becoming ill. The two are temporarily assigned to a psychiatric hospital to help them “assimilate” to life in the real world. Jack doesn’t deal with this transition well; the only person he’s ever known is his mother. The hustle & bustle of every day life is a shock to him. He’s never experienced the feeling of grass on his bare feet. He doesn’t know how to walk up and down stairs.
The transition is quite difficult for Ma as well. In ROOM, she has control over what happens to Jack. Keeping him safe was her utmost concern. She can protect him, but in the outside world she loses this control and loses a bit of what she had become as well. Ultimately, I began to wonder if life was better for Jack & Ma in ROOM?
Room is a fantastic, yet devastating, novel told through the eyes of a young boy. Jack is so naive to the real world it is heartbreaking. He refers to “creaking” in his mother’s bed, not realizing that he is describing the nightly rapes she endures when Old Nick pays his nightly visit.
This book, without a doubt, is one of my favorite of the year. As author Audrey Niffeneger put it “Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lasts for days.” For me, that feeling has lasted for months. I first read Room in September and recently did a reread for a book club meeting. This book has permanently made a mark on my very soul. When I finished reading it for the first time, I instantly wrapped my arms around my own five-year old son and thanked God that he would never have to face an experience like this.
The novel’s web site provides a whole host of additional resources, including a floor plan of ROOM. Seeing the space they were forced to live in literally brought tears to my eyes.
This will be the first time I ever utter this phrase, but I beg you go to out and buy a copy of this book. Read it. Talk about it. You won’t forget it.
Room was inspired by the true story account of Josef Fritzl, a man who kept his daughter prisoner in the basement of their home in Austria for 24 years. He raped her repeatedly, resulting in seven children & one miscarriage.