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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read the Qwillery interview with Lauren Oliver

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lauren Oliver, is the pen name adopted by Laura Schechter, a young author who has already seen considerable success with her youth-oriented novels, most notably the YA Delirium trilogy. Her latest YA novel, Panic, was released in March, 2014. Rooms is her first novel for adults. Oliver’s parents are both literature professors. Her father is Harold Schechter, who has written many books on true-crime and American popular culture. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "We’ve nested in the walls like bacteria. We’ve taken over the house, its insulation and its plumbing–we’ve made it our own. Or maybe it’s life that is the infection: a feverish dream, a hallucination of feelings. Death is purification, a cleansing, a cure."

If death ever takes a holiday I expect he might vacation in Coral River, the upstate New York locale where Richard Walker lives…well…lived. Richard’s recent passing is what has brought the Walker family back together for a spell. A funeral, a burial, a will-reading, and a chance to go over some of the events, the challenges, the hopes and disappointments, the failings of their lives.

Ex-wife Caroline tries to lubricate the process with a steady ingestion of alcohol. Their children are not faring much better. Twenty-something single-mother Minna has a taste for spirits as well. Failure and desperation to fill the emptiness inside will do that. Even the introduction of cosmetic surgery and various prescription meds seem unable to fill that void. Trenton is Richard and Caroline’s teenage son, and he has issues. He barely survived a car crash that left him feeling even more of an outsider than he already was. Trenton sees things that the rest of us cannot, actual holes in the fabric of reality. He wonders if he might be better off dead. Of course some of the household residents already are.

Sandra, whose gray matter once decorated a wall, and Alice, an abused wife who has also contributed to the body count of the house, have made the place their own, or is it the other way round? These golden girls are not necessarily precious. In addition to remembering their lives and observing the Walkers, they squabble and tell lies. And while they may not be able to exactly tote luggage or dig ditches, it is possible for them to effect small acts in the living world, pushing this, bursting that. Having some unresolved issues keeps them from being able to open a doorway to a less geographically restricted existence. Reports of missing children also figure in, from decades past and right now. There are plenty of secrets to be delved into here. Such as just how did Sandra and Alice die? What happened to the missing girls? Who is that new girl ghost who just showed up? And who is Minna banging now?

This is not a scary ghost story sort of tale. No spectres coming to take over anyone’s body. More Topper than The Evil Dead, although not a comedy. A bit of spookery goes on, but there are two elements here that seem dominant, mystery and sadness. In a way, I was reminded of Agatha Christie, as the author presents readers with a sequence of mysteries to be solved, offering clues here and there, hints, red herrings, the usual tools of that trade. While the ghosts may not be scary, their stories and the stories of the living as well are intensely haunting. Choices, mistakes, regrets, the impact of the past echoes in the present, for both the dead and the living.

Oliver organizes her story into eleven parts, representing diverse rooms in the house. The tales told connect with each room in turn. Rooms features an ensemble cast. Oliver’s characters are well-drawn and very human. It is hard not to sympathize with Alice or relate to Trenton. And it is possible to understand why some of the others behave the way they do, given what we learn of their histories.

There is a lot here about identity, being oneself or wanting to be someone, or something else, to have some other life, and coping with other people’s masks:

"It was unfair that people could pretend to be one thing when they were really something else. That they would get you on their side and then do nothing but fail, and fail, and fail again. People should come with warnings, like cigarette packs: involvement would kill you over time."

There is also a lot about being trapped whether as a child in a abusive household, a woman in an abusive marriage, a teen in what seems a dead-end existence, or a ghost in an empty house. There are some moments of humor, although none of the LOL variety, but dollops of charm do seep through the walls from time to time.

CONCLUSION: In short, Rooms is a fun, engaging and fast read. There is real content in the very believable characters’ attempts to make sense of their lives. While this spirited entry into the adult novel category is not the sort of ghost tale that will cause anyone to leave on the lights at night, there is considerable material here that is indeed quite haunting.

NOTE: This review was previously posted on Will's blog. Topper movie still courtesy of Vanessa Campos. Author picture courtesy of the author.


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