Imagine the story. A 19-year-old college student walking across campus when she gets abducted. All she knows is the man has an old pickup truck–brown, she thinks. And he takes her to this place where she will ultimately be confined. Every night, he comes into the room where she is kept, and he rapes her. One night, they conceive a child. She stays in the room throughout it all. Throughout her pregnancy. She delivers the baby in the room, nurses him through his infancy, into toddlerhood and beyond. His name is Jack. Her identity? Ma. Just Ma.
The story sounds horrifying. Haunting. Of our worst nightmares. But just when one thinks they couldn’t possibly read such a tale, there is a detail that needs to be mentioned: this horrifying story? Told through the innocent voice of Jack.
Thus is the story of Room by Emma Donoghue.
Jack tells us all. And Ma is forced to raise Jack in the best way she can. Her captor brings them food and minimal necessities. On Sundays, they may get something special for which they have put in a request: Sundaytreat in Jack’s words. This may be a small amount of candy or a pen with which to write. Friends come to visit Jack through his television viewing: Dora and Boots, Spongebob. They read the same bedtime stories over and over. For comfort, Jack curls up with his mother and nurses. At night, Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and counts the squeaks old Nick makes on the bed with Ma. Will they ever leave Room, the only world Jack knows? I won’t say, because I really want you to read this book. I have read a lot in my time. Nonfiction or fiction, academic or leisure. Never have I encountered a book like this, and I doubt that I ever will again. There are many that I have loved. I don’t know if I love this one because my head is still trying to wrap around a story so profound. But I will go on record to say this is the best book I have ever read.
Room is Jack’s world. He doesn’t know anything else. He thinks grass, trees, cars, other people–all of it–only exist inside of the television. He has never had the sun shine on his face or felt wind. He knows Ma and he knows Room, and that is all. Ma explains later in the book that she couldn’t possibly tell him about all that exists in the outside world and then follow up by telling him he will never have any of it. And she endures. She creates this life, this world, out of her love for Jack. We never hear anything negative from Ma because she taps into that strength for her son. We never hear it from Jack because he has no idea that anything else, any other way of doing things, exists.
The story is sad. Horrifying. Uplifting. Suspenseful. Endearing. Frustrating. I have never had a single book evoke so many emotions as Room did. I want so badly to say more, but again, I want you to read it. Even if you don’t have the time. Even if you are pulled in a million different directions. Hell, just a read a couple of pages at a time (though I doubt this is even possible). This is a story not to be missed. I’m sure it will be a movie someday, cheapened by Hollywood. But for now, it exists in its pure state.