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Tom Alderman Headshot

All Boxed In and Making the Best of It

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Maybe you've read or heard about the glowing reviews for Emma Donoghue's new boxed-in-a-box novel, Room. The NYT reviewer called it 'remarkable,' The Guardian, 'a gem', and The Washington Post's critic swooned, "one of the most affecting and subtly profound novels of the year.' All of which is quite right - but just for the FIRST HALF of this book. After a major plot point is revealed, the second half fizzles out and, frankly, becomes kind of unnecessary and tedious. Having said that, the Hachette audiobook edition is SO well cast, it's almost worth the price of the whole book.

For the uninitiated, the 336 page and the 11 hour audiobook is called Room and not THE Room because the first-person narrator is a five year old boy and that's what he calls the 11' by 11' room where he was born, raised and held captive along with his mother by a kidnapper. Room is the only world he knows and this is what makes the book so...uh...captivating. We get to experience the world - and our world - through the boy's guileless eyes, an innocent in hell who, thanks to his mother, sees his shed-sized room-box as a most wondrous place. For him, the entire world IS the room. Everything else he calls 'TV.' Each channel is a different planet. Some planets have cartoon people, some have rivers and trees, and there are a lots of planets where people win prizes!

If you remember the Robert Benigni's 1998 Academy- Award winning movie, Life is Beautiful, the idea with Room is the same: a parent uses fertile imagination to create a positive experience for their child while both are caged in horrific places. In this story however, the child tells us what's going on. In the audiobook edition, it's the child's voice that elevates this book to its riveting status. Actor Michal Friedman, as the 5-year-old, turns in one of the more masterful performances you're ever likely to hear in audio-lit. The actor completely inhabits the 5-year-old with spot-on inflections, rhythms and tone. Ms. Donoghue certainly knows how to write this 5-year-old narrator while also skillfully moving the story along. On another level Room is also a how-to manual for creative and loving mothers regardless of how big or small their worlds.

The mother-son relationship, the boy's point-of-view, the will-they-or-wont-they escape factor and the actors who inhabit these endearing people, gives validity to all those glowing reviews BUT...just for the first half. Your call as to whether this glass is half-full or half-empty.