educator, writer, speaker, devoted family man, amateur philosopher, chess enthusiast, basketball junkie, connoisseur of fine hip hop, and purveyor of wit and wisdom
For the month of May, my 40 by 40 story was the novel Room by Emma Donoghue. I discovered the novel months ago while perusing the New York Times bestsellers list. It garnered a lot of praise from critics and reader reviews, and the plot was very compelling: a story about a five-year-old boy named Jack who has lived his entire existence with his mother in an 11 foot-by-11 foot room. The story is narrated by Jack, and because he was born and raised in this room by his mother, the room and its contents are all he knows.
The furniture in the room includes a bed, a rug, a small television, a refrigerator, a small electric stove, and a large wardrobe in which Jack sleeps every night. Jack’s mother, known throughout the story only as Ma, has carved out a relatively safe and very structured existence with regular story time, bedtime rituals, songs, and even phys ed (which consists of running laps around the rug and trampoline jumping on the bed). She provides Jack with a healthy diet, a strict hygiene regimen, limited television viewing, and a lot of songs and stories.
For an absolutely AMAZING interactive rendition of the room’s layout CLICK HERE.
There is another important character in Jack’s life…a man known as Old Nick. Jack has never seen Old Nick, and Ma does a fantastic job of keeping it that way. Old Nick enters the room at night after Jack has gone to sleep in the wardrobe, and he is gone before Jack awakes in the morning. Because the story is narrated completely by five-year-old Jack, it takes a while (but not a long while) for him to reveal to the reader that Ma and Jack never leave the room because they physically can’t leave the room. There is an electronic keypad on both sides of the door, the secret code of which is known only by Old Nick.
I am not giving anything away when I tell you that this is a story of an abduction. (The book description on the back cover reads “Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years.”) The uniqueness in Donoghue’s story, however, lies in Jack’s narration. The reader uncovers the entire story (Jack’s physical existence, his history, the story of Ma’s abduction, the story of Old Nick…every detail of the story) all through the innocently ignorant perspective of five-year-old Jack.
And this is the novel’s only flaw. Donoghue does only a mediocre job of capturing a five-year-old’s voice. There are times when Jack sounds extremely young like a three-year-old, and there are other times when the author has him say things obviously for the sake of the story’s progression. Donoghue paints herself into a corner (so to speak) by relying solely on Jack’s narration. It’s a clever technique, but once the author has committed to telling the story in a five-year-old’s voice, she has to move the story along for the reader in a coherent way…and that is sometimes difficult to do using the words of a young child whose vocabulary (and whose very existence) is extremely limited.
Overall, Emma Donoghue has done a great job crafting an incredible story of strength and resilience in the face of horrifyingly dangerous circumstances. I finished the novel shortly after Mother’s Day, and I was left thinking about this incredible bond between Ma and Jack, wondering just how much most mothers would endure and sacrifice for their children.