Friday, May 20, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue: A (Mini Spoiler) Review

Last month, Phillip and Nancy Garrido pleaded guilty to kidnapping­ Jaycee Lee Dugard when she was 11 years old and holding her captive in their backyard for 18 years. During her captivity, Jaycee gave birth to two children, both fathered by Phillip and delivered by Nancy.

We often watch talk shows and read news reports about people like the Garridos and our hearts and minds are left in a state of horror, disgust, and trepidation. Sometimes we are lucky enough to learn, through the perspective of the victim, pieces of what happened during those days, months or years while they were isolated from the outside world. On rare occasions, we even hear and read stories of redemption and justice that give us a feeling of hope and appreciation for the bit of humanity that still exists in the world. Still, when it comes to stories of kidnappings, the focus is normally on the perpetrators and adult victims.

In Room, Emma Donoghue tells a uniquely appealing side of the story. Through 5-year-old Jack, the son of “Ma,” a mother whose name we never learn, Donoghue tells a clever but tragically sad story of the kidnapping of a 19-year-old girl from her college campus. The story, however, revolves around the experience of young Jack, born in an 11 x 11 foot “Room” on a “Rug.” To Jack, he and Ma are in a world of their own and the only person who enters that world is Old Nick, who visits Room each night, bringing with him the sound of three beeps as he closes the steel door behind him, and every week, a “Sundaytreat.” Slowly, and through Ma, Jack learns about the outside world and the life his mother had before Old Nick kidnapped her with the old-fashioned “sick dog trick” and trapped her inside a shed in his backyard for 7 years. But Ma and Jack use the same old-fashioned deceit, faking his death and wrapping his body in a rug, along with the “scaveness”—being brave and scared at onceof Jack to master their “Great Escape.” On the outside, Jack’s understanding of the world begins to unfold and expand at once, leaving him in what some considered a state of confusion and others a state of constant curiosity.

There were elements of the story that some consider disturbing, including Jack’s insistence on sucking on his mother’s rotten tooth; counting the number of times Old Nick bangs the bed against the wall; and breast feeding every day, even at the age of 5, along with Ma’s seemingly nonchalant attitude about the practice. One reader, who is also a mother, noted in a recent book club meeting that Ma likely used it as a coping mechanism, as well as to ensure Jack received nutrients their measly diet of hot dogs, canned vegetables, beans, and junk food couldn’t provide. What I loved most was the author’s sharp attention to detail and her ability to take the reader into the mind of a child. In particular, I appreciated how Donoghue introduced tertiary characters to show that a child’s innocent mind learns things like racism and sexism and hate towards people with alternative lifestyles.

My advice: Don’t judge the book by its slow start. The reader who can get past Jack’s not always linear way of introducing his world will appreciate what the story teaches us about the resilience of a child and the ability of a mother to love her child regardless of the circumstances that brought that child into the world.

– Janelle Williams
   Writer and Beauty/Skin Care Consultant
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1 comment:

  1. glad i stopped by after seeing your post in the dashboard. Another follower of my is actually hosting a giveaway of this book. Thanks for the snippet.