Jack loves Room. It’s the place where all of his memories exist, where he and Ma play and read and do Phys Ed and watch Dora and SpongeBob on TV. Where they scream at Skylight, curl up together on Bed, and lie side by side on Rug, talking and dreaming. Where he’s learned all he knows about the world and how it works. Except for Jack, his whole world is Room. But Jack’s 5 now, and 5 is bigger than 4 so he’s ready for the truth…or is he?
Jack was born in Room where Ma has been imprisoned for 6 years after being abducted at 19. He’s never breathed in the fresh air, felt a raindrop or experienced the warmth of the sun on his skin. His entire existence has been spent in an 11×11 space. He’s never spoken to or seen another person in his entire life, save for Old Nick, Ma and Jack’s captor who visits nightly to “jump the Bed” with Ma. Even Jack’s glimpses of Old Nick are only through the slates in Wardrobe where Ma has him hide when Old Nick comes.
Told in Jack’s unique voice, Room is a haunting novel. It was difficult for me to get into the book at first, precisely because Jack is a 5-year-old and speaks like a 5-year-old. But eventually I was able to look past the annoying grammer and phrasing to experience the deeper story. Having the story told from Jack’s perspective makes Room at once more and less emotional. For Jack, Room is all he’s ever known. He doesn’t miss things from the Outside because to him, those things don’t exist. He’s happy in Room. We experience the true horror of the situation through Ma’s reactions and behaviors. I was laid off from work this past winter, one of the coldest we’ve had here in NJ in some time. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do for the 8-9 hours my husband was at work. I nearly went insane. That is as far as I can go to comprehend what Ma (we never do learn her real name) must have been going through being locked away for 7 years. And yet, she carved out a life for Jack that had a degree of, dare I say, normalcy to it.
I found the part about their escape a little bit unbelieveable. Jack rolled up in a rug pretending to be dead? Old Nick just taking Ma at her word that that’s what happened? That doesn’t seem very bright for a man that built a sound-proof, escape-proof prison in his backyard and managed not to be found out for 7 years. It all seemed to go off a little too smoothly.
I thought Donoghue did a good job expressing the sensory overload Jack would have experienced during his first few weeks out in the world and the overwhelming despair Ma felt. She’s been nothing but Jack’s mother for as long as he’s been alive and suddenly she must learn to re-adjust to the world as well.
“Most days…Jack’s enough for me.”
“‘The Soul selects her own Society – Then – shuts the Door – ‘” That’s his poem voice.
Ma nods. “Yeah, but it’s not how I remember myself.”
“You had to change to survive.”
Noreen looks up. “Don’t forget, you’d have changed anyway. Moving into your twenties, having a child – you wouldn’t have stayed the same.”
Ma just drinks her coffee. (p. 314)