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
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Tyra threw a fierce kick, but the other girl grabbed her foot, and Tyra lost her balance and was on the ground. The girl jumped on top, pinned Tyra's chest with her own knees, and began punching Tyra in the face, alternating fists, left right left, like she was kneading dough, punching it down to size. Punching it and punching it, dough that was a face. Her brothers shouted encouragement. They were rooting for her, but if she were losing, they would not have stepped in, I knew. They were there as believers in the honesty of a fight and the pride of fighting well. She punched and punched. Her arms seemed too skinny to carry any force on contact, fist to face, but eventually they produced their damage. It never occurred to me to jump in. I watched Tyra get pummeled.

When the girl felt she had sufficiently made her point, she let up. She stood, retightening her ponytail, and pulled her shorts out of her ass crack. Tyra sat up, trying to wipe away her tears. I went to help her. Her hair was tangled. She was covered in dead grass clippings.

"I got a good lick in," she said. "Did you see how I kicked that bitch in the chest?"

Both of her eyes were swollen almost closed. Her cheeks had turned to hard shiny lumps. She had an open gash on her chin from the girl's ring. "I got a pretty good lick in," she repeated. It was the best way to look at things, but the truth was she had been brutally beaten up, and by a prissy girl in a whatever T-shirt, an unlikely winner who was not an unlikely winner, it became clear the moment the fight began. The winner was Eva.

- - -

I did not become friends with Eva that day, but later. Whenever that later was, a year maybe, the memory of her and her punches was undiminished. I knew something about her. Most girls talk a big game, and then they scratch and pull hair, or don't show up for the fight.

I suppose you could say I traded Tyra for Eva, like I traded Ajax for Jimmy Darling. But in both cases, the first was there to lead me to the second. Life allows for assessments, and reas- sessments. And anyhow, who wants to be stuck with a loser?

Eva was a professional. One of those girls who always had a lighter, bottle opener, graffiti markers, flask, amyl nitrate, Buck knife, even her own sensor remover—the device that department store clerks used to remove theft prevention clips from new clothes. She stole it. The rest of us ripped out the sensors forcibly before leaving the store with our stolen loot. A sensor in a dressing room was a giveaway, so we took them with us, crammed up under our armpits, which muffled the sensor, deadened it to the detection alarm. We were not kleptomaniacs. That's a term for rich people who steal by compulsion. We were finding innovative ways to acquire makeup and perfume and purses and clothes—all the normal things a girl would be expected to have and want, and which we could not afford.

All my clothes had holes in them from where the sensors had been attached. Eva removed them from her stolen clothes properly, with her magic device. Once, she walked right into I. Magnin, clipped the wires from a rabbit fur coat with wire cutters, put it on, and ran for it. The wires fit through the arms of the fur and leather jackets, with large hoops dangling from the ends of the sleeves like giant handcuffs.

Eva went through a tomboy phase and stopped wearing fur jackets. She dressed like one of the Sunset guys, Ben Davis pants with a janitorial key ring dangling from a belt loop. The more keys on the ring, the better. It didn't matter if they opened any- thing, except beer bottles. She wore a black Derby jacket, with the gold paisley padding on the inside, the trademark shoulder- to-shoulder seams. Like the boys, she completed that look with steel-toed boots—for kicking peoples' heads in should the need arise.

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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