CBR10 Bingo: Snubbed (short-listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize) – BINGO #2!
Jack is a typical five-year-old boy. He likes cartoons and birthday cake and bouncing on the bed. He does phys ed with his mother, timing how many laps they both can make around the room and celebrating when he wins. He likes picture books and drives his mother to distraction when he makes her read Dylan the Digger over and over and over. He’s whip smart for a 5-year-old; he knows that the word pasteurized on a milk container means laser guns zapped away the germs. His mother seems to have done an admirable job raising him.
The difference between Jack and most children is Jack’s entire world is an 11’x11′ room.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Jack and his mother are captives. “Ma,” as she is known by first-person-narrator Jack, has been in Room for seven years. If you’re as good at math as Jack is, you’ll realize that he was conceived and born two years into Ma’s captivity. Their captor is a man known only as “Old Nick,” a name Jack came up with after seeing a scary movie on television. Ma shields Jack from their captor as much as possible, making Jack sleep in the wardrobe until after Old Nick leaves from his frequent evening visits so that they won’t have any contact.
If this were all there was to the plot of Room it would be heart-breaking enough. Ma’s bravery in protecting her son, establishing something close to normalcy while living a nightmare, is beautiful and agonizing. Through Jack’s eyes we see not only her struggle to keep him safe, but her turmoil as she realizes she can’t protect him forever. When Jack talks about growing up, she says “Sounds great,” but Jack can tell something is wrong. “Her face is gone flat,” he thinks, “that means I said a wrong thing but I don’t know which.”
Shortly after Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma decides the time has come to try for an escape and starts to form a plan. But for a child like Jack whose entire world is 121 square feet, and for a young woman who has had to learn to exist for nothing but herself and her son, the “Outside” proves just as terrifying and even more difficult to manage.
This may sound clichéd, but Room is ultimately the story of a mother’s love. That love drives everything Ma does, from protecting Jack, to planning their escape, to ultimately learning to cope with the outside world again. This is one of those dark stories that, if you can make it through, will move you with the power of the human psyche to ultimately triumph. It will make you question normalcy; things that might make you shudder take on new meaning when you place yourself in the protagonists’ situation. One of the first signs that something is a little “off” in Jack’s world is when he talks about taking a bath with his mother. He also talks often about “wanting some,” which means he wants to nurse. I’ll admit I was pretty creeped out at the thought of a five-year-old breastfeeding (on a daily basis, no less). Eventually, though, I questioned myself: why was I more disturbed by a breastfeeding child than by the nightly rapes that Ma is subjected to? I decided my reaction was more messed up than anything in the novel.
Emma Donogue adapted Room into a script for the 2015 film, for which Brie Larson won an Oscar. The adaptation is brilliant and I highly recommend both the book and the movie. I’m not typically a movie crier, except when animals die or when a really moving score draws out some wayward tears during the climax. Room is the only movie that has ever prompted me to start sobbing mid-film. The story is raw and beautiful and painful. It will make you feel, and isn’t that what great art is supposed to do?