Ma

Room is an “it book” at the moment. Everyone I know is reading it, just finished reading it, or wants to read it. It’s an easy sell – a sensational, ripped-from-the-headlines situation, great pacing, compelling characters, all wrapped up in a quick and easy-to-read package.

The basic, spoiler-free premise: Five year old Jack is our narrator, and his is the only perspective we are privy to. His “Ma” has been locked up in a small room for about seven years by the mysterious “Old Nick”. Jack has spent his entire life in “Room” and doesn’t know that there is a world on the other side of the walls, or that there is anything there is anything unique about his situation.

The book is all ostensibly all about Jack, but for me it is all about Ma.

On a superficial level, when my son is getting on my last nerve, I think about Ma and realize I don’t have it so bad. I go to work during the week. I go to yoga classes some evenings. I have date nights with my husband. I have a support network of friends, family and daycare workers I can lean on. Ma has none of these things. She has been in the same room as her son for five years. This truly makes me shudder when I think about it too hard!

On a deeper level, Ma challenges the martyr-mommy archetype. There’s an pervasive notion out there that moms should put their family’s needs ahead of their own, at all times, and anything less is failure.

Spoilers follow…


Ma is the ultimate martyr-mommy. She has no outside interests. She has no other relationships, apart from her necessary dealings with Old Nick. She is endlessly patient and creative in parenting Jack. She is in full-on mommy mode 24 hours a day.

And yet, she has mommy-guilt. Guilt for not getting him out sooner. Guilt for not being able to reconcile her self as a separate person. She is insecure and defensive about how she parents Jack.

If even Ma feels guilty and defensive, what hope is there for the rest of us?

When Ma attempts suicide, it feels like the ultimate betrayal. Why did she get Jack out of Room if she was just going to leave him? But it’s a path every mother follows – we have babies, and from day one, we slowly, slowly peel ourselves away until one day, that baby is on their own.

Some of my non-breeder friends are wierded out by the prominent role breastfeeding takes in the novel, but I think it sums up Ma’s  relationship with Jack nicely. Breastfeeding is comfort, closeness, dependence and routine – all the good stuff Jack loved about Room.  Breastfeeding is close to the heart for me as I’m nearing the end of that particular road with my son. I cried like a baby when Ma and Jack decided to pack it in.

“No,” says Ma, putting her hand between, “I’m sorry. That’s all done. Come here.”

We cuddle hard. Her chest goes boom boom in my ear, that’s the heart of her.

I lift up her T-shirt.

“Jack-”

I kiss the right and say “Bye-bye.” I kiss the left twice because it was always creamier. Ma holds my head so tight I say, “I can’t breathe,” and she lets go.

While reading the book, I wished I could hear the story from Ma’s perspective. But now I know that  I don’t have to, because this is every Ma’s story.

Breastfeeding my son, about four months old

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6 comments

  1. Sarah

    I read it from Ma’s perspective too … how can you not, as a mother? I was also very angry when she attempted suicide. I wanted to yell at how selfish she was being, how much her little boy needed her especially then. But I get it, and my heightened emotional response just goes to show how involved I got with tis book!

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  3. Brie @ Eat Books

    Haha “non-breeder” friends. Well, as one of those non-breeders, I was not weirded out by it – really, I was impressed with it. What better way to help supplement Ma’s growing boy? I’m surprised she was able to keep milk for that many years. I was so angry when Ma attempted to commit suicide. WHY!? You’ve managed so much this long, and now you give up? I felt it was so selfish. What if she had been successful and then left Jack all alone, just when he was experiencing the world outside of Room for the first time?

    I found myself thinking of Jack often after I finished this book. “Where’s Jack now?”, “I wonder how Jack’s managing now…”. It really was a great read.

    • lauratfrey

      Some of my best friends are non-breeders 🙂

      Donoghue is such a talent! Her characters are so compelling. I feel the same way, Ma stuck with me for a long time (hence the post) and Mary in Slammerkin is the same… I find myself thinking about her lots.

      She has a short story collection out. I should really put that on my TBR list.

      • Brie @ Eat Books

        I hope to one day be a breeder… 🙂 Haha!

        I’ll let you read the short story collection first (called Astray). I’m not a big fan of short stories – I always want more! But if you like it then I could be convinced 🙂 I definitely need to read Slammerkin though!

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