Rachel Kushner (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.
Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike, allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks and stories shared through sewage pipes.
Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny. The Mars Room presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.
Chair of judges Kwame Anthony Appiah comments:
‘Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a heartbreaking exploration of lives at the margins of society, mobilising fiercely inventive characters whose lives seem mostly to have been foredoomed; their various misfortunes bring them to the prison that is the staging ground of their encounters. Against the background of the horrifying experiences of a women’s prison, the central character reflects on the life, as a neglected child and an adult sex worker, that has led her to the killing for which she has been sentenced for the rest of her life. In this seemingly hopeless world, some of the prisoners learn to manage, even accept, their circumstances, and the reader’s interest in their lives is driven by a propulsive plot that keeps you turning the pages despite your anger at the many injustices they contain. Kushner insists that we face the reality of what is being done in our names; and the energy and imagination of her craft enthrals on every page.’