Actually both of those books are about dark, horrible events, and yet somehow I wasn’t deeply disturbed afterward.
Well, OK, I was kind of disturbed that so many people recommended Room to me, because I kind of hated it.
I started Room months ago, right after I got my Kindle, but after the first chapter, I just could not get into it. That rarely happens to me, but the book was just not clicking for me so I decided to set it aside. Then last week, I was in need of new reading material so I decided to give it another shot. Within a couple days, two bloggers had chosen it as a book club read, so I was glad I decided to re-visit it. At least I could accidentally be part of a book club, right?
I can see why this would be a good book club book; there are so many things to say about it. Unfortunately, in my case, most of them are bad.
The premise: A woman (“Ma”) was kidnapped and has been held captive in a soundproof shed for seven years, where she is repeatedly raped by her captor, “Old Nick.” This led to two pregnancies; the first resulted in a stillborn birth and the second resulted in Jack, the book’s narrator. Jack is five years old and has never been outside of “Room” before. All he knows is his world inside with his mother. He doesn’t know who Old Nick is or why he comes each night. His life is pretty good because he doesn’t know anything else.
A lot of people have commented that the premise is disturbing, and it is dark, but that didn’t really bother me. (I don’t know what that says about me.) But a lot of other things bothered me.
1. The book doesn’t have a plot for the first 100 pages. That’s a really long time to go without a plot. I got really bored and was tempted to go online looking for spoilers, just so I’d know there was something coming eventually. I didn’t and if you’re reading it, you shouldn’t either. I can tell you that it does get better, around page 105. For about ten pages it gets so much better. Like, couldn’t-put-it-down-I-have-to-know-what-happens better. And then it went away. But those ten pages…damn!
2. After a few pages, the novelty of the child narrator wore off and I just found him annoying. And a little unrealistic. He knows big words like “omnivore” but he says things like “Ma hotted up my food in the microwave.” His sentences are just completely ridiculous, with verbs in all the wrong places, to the point it was just distracting. I’ve never heard a 5-year-old talk like that. Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense that Ma goes through such trouble to give him a normal life and raise him to be smart and well-adjusted — she teaches him to read, doesn’t let him watch TV all day, etc. — and then doesn’t correct his grammar. By the end of the book, I just didn’t feel any sympathy for him, which is terrible, I know, but I just didn’t find him all that likeable.
3. Like I said, it wasn’t too disturbing for me. The thing I found most disturbing was when Jack counted the bed creaks when Old Nick would come in at night. But honestly, what really gave me the creeps was how Jack talked about his mother’s breasts and insisted on being breastfed. The breastfeeding didn’t bother me as much as how he talked about it.
4. The second “act,” so to speak, was awful. There were a few highlights, but on the whole, the whole thing seemed better suited for a novella or short story that ended after those awesome ten pages.
5. For the most part, I found Ma really unlikeable. When she was plotting their escape, all I could think was, She’s so selfish. And stupid. Nothing about the escape plan seemed probable, and while I can understand why she was desperate, I was pissed that she’d risk her child’s life like she did. I mean, to expect the plan to work, to expect a child to outrun a man like Old Nick was just…too much for me.
OK, so the plan worked. Fine. I can accept that, only because the real case the story was based on involved a similar escape story.
6. Once we got into the second part, with Ma and Nick in the hospital, I started to like Ma a little bit more. I liked when she was a little selfish, when she wanted Jack to leave her alone. I liked when she was bitchy during the TV interview; that seemed realistic. What really shocked me was her suicide attempt. After all that, after seven years of unimaginable horror, after risking her own life and her child’s life…she went and downed a bottle of pills??
7. Jack’s family members weren’t very nice people. His aunt and uncle took him shopping and spent the whole time bitching at each other and then getting frustrated when he asked for toys or tried to take a book home because he had the same book so he thought it was his. And his grandma was a total biatch! She lost patience with him so quickly and then she went and lost him when they were out shopping. Really? You lost your daughter, and now you’re not going to keep a closer eye on your grandson, who has been in the real world for just a few weeks and is being hunted by the paparazzi? Really, grandma???
Bottom line: I don’t recommend Room, but I think it might be one of those “decide for yourself” reads. A lot of people have been raving about Room…but a lot of the reviews on Amazon had the exact same complaints I did. Might as well decide for yourself, although I recommend saving a few bucks and getting it from the library.
After reading the fictional account that is Room, I needed some non-fiction version to like…balance things out, so I decided to read A Stolen Life.
Jaycee Dugard’s memoir is a non-fiction account of a similar story, this time told from the woman’s POV. On the one hand, this book could have been more disturbing than Room, and in many ways it was, but because it was written so simply and honestly, it wasn’t. It truly felt like she was just telling her story. I read that she wrote it without the help of a ghostwriter and I think that’s what made it so good. It was like reading a blog or an e-mail from a friend or even a first-person account in a magazine — her voice was all over it, and that made it both easy to read and totally gripping. It was sad and shocking, but really, it was a story of courage and hope. I had tears in my eyes when she was reunited with her mother; I’m getting teary right now thinking about what a survivor she is. I was just disgusted that this continued for 18 years and that the man’s wife enabled the entire thing, but on the whole, I really liked the book and was glad I read it.
Bottom line: Read it!
Have you read either of these books? Thoughts??