Book Notes: Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room

I’m not one of those sad weirdos who think people shouldn’t write novels about anybody except their own identity group. By all means, write about anybody you want. But you still got to make it at least somewhat believable. Don’t endow a twenty-bucks-a-pop stripper who is serving two life sentences for murdering a john with the fussy sensibility of a Vassar graduate, or whichever fancy wokester school Kushner graduated from.

It’s absolutely possible to write well about the lumpen classes without being lumpen yourself. But in order to do that, you have to be able to accept that people are not interchangeable widgets. And Kushner can’t do that because her whole worldview of an upper-middle-class wokester is based on the widget mentality.

The novel gets downright funny at times, with its obsession with trans issues and pronouns and its earnest belief that women – especially the ones locked up in jail for violent crimes – are completely asexual creatures. While male convicts obsess about sex, female convicts obsess about pronouns. The novel is set 20 years ago, which makes the whole thing even more bizarre.

The novel is valuable for its glimpse into the utter cluelessness of wealthy people but very little else.