Jack's entire world measures 11' x 11'. He and his mother have been kept prisoner in a soundproof room his entire life. He thinks that TV shows like “Dora the Explorer” and “SpongeBob Squarepants” are from Outer Space. But the 5-year-old is a cheerful, inquisitive soul who has no trouble filling his days in Emma Donoghue's Room. “We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a drink in Sink for no spilling, and then put her back on her saucer on Dresser,” he relates, describing a day full of calisthenics, rhyming games, drawing, and reading, as Ma goes to great lengths to teach him everything she can from inside Room. The only thing he doesn't like is having to hide in the wardrobe when “Old Nick” comes to visit Ma at night.
When trying to describe the plot of “Room,” don't be surprised if people automatically recoil. Despite the ripped-from-the-headlines topic, there's nothing lurid or prurient about this story of a young mom who is determined to create the best life she can for her son, no matter how horrifying her circumstances. (Think “Life is Beautiful,” only less cloying.) The success of “Room,” which was shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize, rests entirely on Jack's ability to tell their story, and Donoghue's feat of ventriloquism never falters. “When I was a kid I thought like a little kid, but now I'm five I know everything,” Jack says. One late-breaking plot development aside, not since “The Lovely Bones” have I read a literary high-wire act that danced so sure-footedly over such a potentially nauseous premise.