Excerpt from The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mars Room

A Novel

by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner X
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 352 pages
    May 2019, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

For years, whenever I thought of that image on the cover of Killed Twice I felt sick. Now I can see that what I experienced was normal. You learn when you're young that evil exists. You absorb the knowledge of it. When this happens for the first time, it does not go down easy. It goes down like a horse pill.

- - -

At age ten I fell under the spell of an older girl named Tyra. She had glassy eyes and olive skin and a husky, tough-girl voice. The night I met her I was in someone's car, driving around drinking Löwenbräu lights. Lowie lights, green bottles with a baby-blue label. We picked up Tyra on Noriega, at a house that was an informal foster home for girls. The man who ran it, Russ, forced himself on the girls at night, unpredictably but predictably. If you stayed there, sooner or later you were going to be visited at night by Russ, who was old, and muscular, and mean. The girls complained about being raped by him as if it were a form of strictness, or rent. They were willing to endure it because they didn't have other options. The rest of us did nothing about it because Russ bought us liquor and what were we to do, call the police? One of them was known for taking girls out to Point Lobos instead of to the police station on Taraval.

Tyra called shotgun in a menacing way and got in the front, put her feet on the dash. She was already buzzed, she told us, slur- ring her words in a way I found glamorous. She wore diamond earrings. They flashed from her little-girl ears as she drained a Lowie light and pitched her empty from the window of the car. Maybe Tyra's earrings were fakes. It didn't matter. Their effect was the same. For me she had the magic.

That year I'd had a chance to know a nice girl, with two parents, middle-class. She came to my house for a sleepover. The next week at school she told everyone that at my house we ate Hostess pies for dinner and threw the wrappers under the bed. I have no memory of that. I'm not saying it isn't true. My mom let me eat what I wanted for dinner. She was usually with whatever guy she was seeing, someone who didn't like children, so they'd be shut up in her bedroom with the door locked. We had an account at the corner market and I'd go down there and get goodies, chips, liters of soda, whatever I wanted. I didn't know to pretend to live some other way to make an impression on another kid. It made me sad what this girl said about me and about our house. I was sad even as I stuck a pin in her ass as she got off the 6 Parnassus after school. Stood by the back doors, and as she exited I jabbed her, right through her pants. Everyone did that. We stole the pins from home economics. It was normal, but it made tears roll down your face if someone did it to you.

That diamonds are supposedly forever was something Jimmy Darling joked about. Every mineral here on earth is forever, he said. But they make it seem like diamonds are especially forever, in order to sell them, and it works.

A few days later Tyra called me and we made a plan to go to Golden Gate Park on a Sunday, to the bridge, where people roller-skate and hang out. Tyra came to my house, since I lived a few blocks from the bridge.

She said, "I need to beat this bitch's face in." I said okay and we went to the park.

The girl whose face Tyra had an appointment to beat in was already there, with two older brothers. They were not from the Sunset; later I learned they lived in the Haight. The brothers were adults, both mechanics at a garage on Cole Street. The girl, Tyra's opponent, was tall and delicate-looking with a shiny black pony- tail. She was wearing pink shorts and a shirt that said whatever. Her lips were tinged with the bluish effect of opalescent gloss. Tyra was athletic and tough. Nobody wanted to fight her. She and this leggy girl with the ponytail took off their skates. They fought on the grass, in their socks. The socks softened nothing.

Excerpted from The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Copyright © 2018 by Rachel Kushner. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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