Room: Reality v. Fiction


“The man, Ariel Castro, 52, crossed the street to borrow a lawn mower on Monday afternoon from a neighbor to cut his mother’s postage stamp lawn, then left with a brother to spend the afternoon drinking, neighbors said.

“It was typical of the outwardly mundane life Mr. Castro led, which apparently included outings with a daughter he is believed to have fathered with one of the captives. Meanwhile, inside his house on Seymour Avenue, the three women, who last celebrated birthdays with their families about a decade ago, saw year after year perversely marked by Mr. Castro’s serving of a cake on each woman’s “abduction day,” according to one victim’s cousin.”
New York Times, May 7, 2013

In Emma Donoghue’s horrific novel, Room, five-year old Jake lives in a room with his mother, Ma.  He has games and toys; a television that he believes is a direct connection depicting reality on another planet; a wardrobe where he sleeps when “Old Nick” comes to make fearsome noises with Jake’s mother.

When Jake and Ma are rescued due to Ma’s ingenuity in faking Jake’s death, Jake leaves the only world he has ever known and Ma return to the world she left more than seven years ago.  The departure is violent, disturbing, upheaval in lives previously confined to four walls and eleven by eleven foot space.

As I’ve followed the situation unravelling in Cleveland, where Ariel Castro allegedly held three women and one child for 11, 10, 9 and 6 years (the child) in a basement, chained and repeatedly raped, I am haunted by the similarities to Room, Emma Donoghue’s Booker Prize-nominated, 2010 novel.  Jack loves Room — and Plant and Rug and Bed and Wall and Wardrobe– and after escaping longs to return.

In Cleveland, news reports, including one from the Daily Beast, inform us that “[w}hen Castro had guests over to his home on Seymour Avenue, he made sure they were invisible. “He would bring the women upstairs to the attic, tie them up, and tape their mouths,” reported Fox 8 Cleveland. The 52-year-old would then blast music throughout the house, silencing any attempts the women made to scream for help. According to one of DeJesus’s cousins, Castro further humiliated the women by forcing them to eat cake and “celebrate” National Abduction Day each year.”

In Room, Emma Donoghue explains “Old Nick has never gotten a good look at Jack or even really wanted one. What he wants is to visit Ma in Room, the soundproofed, lead-lined backyard shed where he has imprisoned her. Jack (who hides in a wardrobe at such moments) times the man’s visits by counting creaks of the bedsprings. And Ma accommodates her rapist in exchange for the supplies she needs to keep Jack alive.”

Ultimately, Emma Donoghue asks whether it is safer and more sane on the outside with the crush of media, psychiatrists and strange family members or inside Room.  Through the next few weeks, months and years, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus may be asking the same questions.

God help us all.

UPDATE: A movie version of the novel will be released October 16, 2015. Here’s a link to the movie trailer:


5 thoughts on “Room: Reality v. Fiction

  1. My Book Club was struck by the numerous similarities between Jaycee Dugard’s survival in captivity and Ma and Jack’s lives as depicted in the book. “Room,” however, was published before Jaycee was found so it was simply a matter of the author’s imagination being on point. I pray that the whereabouts of the other teenager who disappeared close in time to Amanda and Gina’s abductions would become known. Good blog post, Pam – thought provoking!

    • Thanks Linda. When I first read Room, it was the Jaycee Dugard case that struck a key with me too. This is almost life imitating fiction, isn’t it? Thank you for reading!

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