Lucy Raven
David Canfield
November 22, 2017 at 09:30 AM EST

For her next book, author Rachel Kushner is hitting us right at home.

The Mars Room is a compelling novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

Kushner has twice been nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction — a remarkable feat considering she’s only published two novels to date. Her last book, The Flamethrowers, earned universal acclaim and has been the subject of a potential film adaptation involving Jane Campion. Safe to say, the literary world is eagerly awaiting what she’ll do next.

EW can exclusively debut the cover and a short excerpt from The Mars Room, which should be enough to indicate there’s still plenty we haven’t seen from this extremely talented and promising writer. Read on below, and pre-order The Mars Room here ahead of its May 1, 2018 release.

Cover photograph by Nan Goldin, Amanda in the Mirror, Berlin, 1992; Jacket design by Peter Mendelsund

Excerpt from “The Mars Room,” by Rachel Kushner

1

Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays. Once a week the defining moment for sixty women takes place. For some of the sixty, that defining moment happens over and over. I was woken at two a.m. and shackled and counted, Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W314159, and lined up with the others for an all-night ride up the valley.

As our bus exited the jail perimeter, I glued myself to the mesh-reinforced window to try to see the world. There wasn’t much to look at. Underpasses and on-ramps, dark, deserted boulevards. No one was on the street. We were passing through a moment in the night so remote that traffic lights had ceased to go from green to red and merely blinked a constant yellow. Another car came alongside. It had no lights. It surged past the bus, a dark thing with demonic energy. There was a girl on my unit in county who got life for nothing but driving. She wasn’t the shooter, she would tell anyone who’d listen. She wasn’t the shooter. All she did was drive the car. That was it. They’d used license plate reader technology. They had it on video surveillance. What they had was an image of the car, at night, moving along a street, first with lights on, then with lights off. If the driver cuts the lights, that is premeditation. If the driver cuts the lights, it’s murder.

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