Some of y’all might have seen, in an earlier post on why I dislike New Year’s resolutions, that I made a New Year’s resolution: to read at least 12 books written not by white men. The first one on the list is Room, by the Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue…
Jack, a 5-year-old, is the narrator of this novel, and we learn pretty quickly that he’s spent his entire life, with his mother, in one room, which is his world. It becomes clear that “Ma” is being held in Room against her will, and the plot really takes off once Jack learns this too.
But while the plot is engaging, even thriller-like, the novel itself is much more than that. Jack narrates it in first person, and his unique perspective is both (and often simultaneously) funny and heartbreaking. It’s also deeply insightful, and culturally critical, as he’s forced to absorb the realities of the world through his one-room lens.
My favorite part of the book is the relationship between Jack and his mother. This is the only human relationship Jack’s had (aside from one regular but mysterious visitor), although he and his mother make up for that by naming the contents of Room – other characters in Jack’s world include Rug, Wardrobe, Spider, and Meltedy Spoon. And it’s a tender relationship, especially given the circumstances of Room. The relationship grows more complex as Jack learns more about the outside world, but there’s a constant undercurrent of love and affection that carries them both through the various traumas they encounter.
This relationship especially interested me, because a few weeks ago I went to a workshop put on by Women Write the Rockies on writing memorable female characters. I had a chance to ask a group of women at the workshop what bugged them the most about men writing female characters, and one woman brought up the mother/child relationship. It’s very difficult for men to write this well, she said, and it often ends out seeming cliched or trivial (or worse, fetishized) when they do. Room is a great example of how to do the relationship well, and even if it wasn’t an absorbing, heart-wrenching story (and movie, apparently), reading Jack and Ma would be worth it.
I’ve got a couple of other non-white-male reads in the pipeline (Ta-Nahisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life are next on the list), but if anyone has other recommendations, please put them in the comments below!