A 19 year old college student is approached on her way to the library one day, a man asking for help with his seriously ill dog. She goes with him, and ends up spending the next seven years of her life as his captive in an 11×11 shed in his back yard, a shed that has been fortified and soundproofed, fitted with heat and running water. She fights and is badly beaten. Tries to escape and is mocked. Struggles and screams and sends signals into the night sky that no one sees. She sleeps 16 hours a day, spends her waking hours trying to escape, watching TV, and dreading his visits. Her only hope is that she might die and be free from his brutal treatment.
Her salvation comes from an unlikely source, the baby boy, Jack, she is forced to bear to her captor. In her love for Jack, she finds a reason to live, a reason to focus her energies and strengths on how to make life somehow bearable in their tiny world entire. For it is a world entire…for Jack, 5 years old at the time we meet him, Room (a pronoun, for everything has a name…Room, Duvet, Plant, Wardrobe, and are his friends) is his only reality. The figures he sees on TV are fiction. So much so that when he sees a commercial on the TV for the same pain reliever that his mother uses to ease the pain of her rotten teeth (for her captor will of course not take her for any medical or dental care…the stain from Jack’s birth is still on Rug), he is confused, because it makes no earthly sense to him that the bottle on the TV could look the same as the one in Room, and yet, not be the same bottle.
Room is told entirely from Jack’s point of view, a boy who is far ahead of his outer-space peers in vocabulary and math skills, and yet, of course does not understand about slides or sand or stores or fresh air or any of the other millions of other things that other 5-year-olds would understand. It is a dangerous conceit, because telling a story from the point of view of a 5-year-old could be too cute or confusing for many an author. But in Emma Donoghue’s hands, we are safer in Jack’s story than we ever could be if we were hearing the story from his Ma’s point of view. Her story is far too painful.
The amazing things about this story to me, the parts that twist your heart and make it stronger, are Ma’s love for her son, her knowledge that he has saved her from a painful, meaningless life, even while she of course would never have had him if she were free; and Jack’s sweet attachment to Room, his fear at the idea of escape, the comfort and safety his loving mother has managed to create for him in a tiny world that is in no way at all comfortable, nor safe.
I would highly recommend this book, and I told Ted that I expect it will be made into a movie sometime soon. The author was spurred to the idea by the horrific stories of Elisabeth Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard, their years long captivities, and the fierce love both women have for their children. Be warned, though. I read the first section before bed, and dreamed that I was trapped in Room by Bruce Dern’s character from Big Love. Ugh. Creepy.