The Mars Room:
I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t devour Rachel Kushner’s newest novel; I did. Gorged myself on its lucid prose and somber setting that spread over the crispness of even its vulgar passages like frosting over a hot cake. During Epiphany, thousands of New Orleanians partake of their carnival bread, the king cake in which a minuscule baby doll is typically placed as an act of symbolism. As I read The Mars Room, I felt I was feeding on a literary king cake searching for the trinketry of a plastic baby Jesus, for the rich symbolism of humanity’s suffering and redemption. My fingers became almost sticky with the text’s messiness, but I kept eating believing I would find the doll, the redemption, but with the entirety of the novel digested, I have to confront the empty promise, though the book is not without its delicacies.
To be fair, Kushner’s novel makes no such promises of redemption. Her ingredients are more fractional, providing a plot as thinly salubrious as wheat germ (escape from prison), and populating the narrative with characters as substantial as garnish, with few if any being fully cooked characters.