Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room
‘This is a story that gets to the root of how my society is structured right now … There’s a way that prison is invisible to a middle-class person. It’s not a conspiracy, but it may be by design in certain regards. It’s a serious subject for a novelist.’
Rachel Kushner is among America’s brightest literary stars. With her previous, highly acclaimed novels, Telex from Cuba (about American expatriates in 1950s pre-Castro Cuba) and The Flamethrowers (about radical New York artists in the seventies), she explored two very different scenes of ideological chaos and confusion, with exhilarating prose and virtuosic storytelling.
Kushner's latest novel, The Mars Room, sees her applying her talents, once again, to probing the political context and meaning of a very specific time and place. This time, it’s the American prison system, and it's the present day. The Mars Room is about a woman serving two life sentences for killing her stalker and it’s the product of years of research, and close collaboration with Americans who have themselves served time.
In conversation with Ellena Savage for our Mayhem series, the extraordinary Kushner talks crime, punishment and American institutions.
Rachel Kushner’s debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. Her follow-up novel, The Flamethrowers, was also a finalist for the National Book Award. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2016 Harold D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her latest novel, The Mars Room, was a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.
Ellena Savage is an author and academic. Her work has been published widely in anthologies and literary journals including, recently, the Paris Review Daily, Sydney Review of Books, Choice Words and Lifted Brow, of which she is a former editor. Ellena is the recipient of several grants and prizes, including the 2019–21 Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship. Ellena lives in Athens, Greece. Blueberries is her first collection.