A Room Called Earth

Madeleine Ryan. Penguin, $17 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-14-313545-6
Australian writer Ryan’s evocative debut features an autistic narrator negotiating her social obligations on Christmas Eve in Melbourne. As the unnamed, self-possessed woman, who finds “connection with my own species has been difficult,” prepares to attend a party, her mind takes her through a series of digressions. Should she put chopsticks in her hair, or paint the chopsticks to match her outfit, or leave them in the drawer to serve their purpose as utensils? She considers the identities of the partygoers, whom she envisions as “Futuristic Shadow Beasts Without Faces,” observes the foliage, and plays with her cat. Among people, she struggles to bridge the gulf between the hive of her mind and polite conversation, which she finds suffocating, whether dealing with a clingy ex-boyfriend or weathering the labels and words that she refuses to define her (“Sometimes... I fear that change is impossible, and that persecution is inevitable for us all”). Eventually, she leaves with a man and contends with the languages of love and sex in an extended scene that begins awkwardly but turns into romance. While the dialogue is often long-winded, the interior monologues are vibrant and revealing. Ryan succeeds in capturing neurodiversity on the page. Agent: Barbara Zitwer, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/29/2020
Release date: 08/18/2020
Genre: Fiction
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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