Published 12/21/14 by: Kaitlin
“This is how we grow: not up, but out, like trees – swelling to encompass all these stories, the promises and lies and bribes and habits.” (Excerpted from “Rooms”)
I won’t lie to you, I was not totally enthused about a novel in which ghosts are the narrators. It’s not that I’m prejudiced against ghosts, or people who believe in them, but I just wasn’t convinced that this wouldn’t be another gimmick to make the plot seem more enticing than it actually is. However, in the case of Lauren Oliver’s latest novel “Rooms”, I was pleasantly surprised, and my assumptions were quickly squashed.
So why did I buy a book that initially didn’t seem appealing to me? Well, for starters, I’ve read quite a few of Oliver’s books, and I’ve enjoyed her storytelling. Additionally, I am a total sucker for entertaining dysfunctional families (see Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You”), so “Rooms” had some pull in that department. While my readership is constantly being driven by how many fascinating characters a novel is advertising, “Rooms” did not have that immediate draw. In fact, very little is revealed about the two ghost narrators, while the family whose house they’re inhabiting takes center stage.
As you delve into the book you’re immersed in a chaotic family event: the oft-ignored patriarch of the family, Richard Walker, has passed away. His adult daughter Minna, ex-wife Caroline, teenage son Trenton, and his granddaughter all flock to his home to get organized and hear his will. As a result of the divorce, the alternating narrator ghosts Alice and Sandra have not seen the rest of the Walker clan in years, and are quickly trying to brush up on what this quirky family has been up to. In hearing the ooos and ahhs of the Walkers’ arrival, as told by Sandra and Alice, you learn that the two ghosts have been putting up with each other for years, and do not particularly get along. It’s not until much later in the novel that you understand the complexity of their living and non-living relationship.
Most of us are aware of ghost lore, and how we’re to assume that ghosts exist because they’re in an “in-between” state – with unfinished business, or unresolved issues around their death. Oliver plays into this well-established notion, and expertly weaves revelations about the two ghosts’ pasts, as they attempt to use the vulnerable Trenton as a scapegoat for their issues. Ultimately, they’re hoping to get rid of the Walkers, but in a way that also expels them from the home they’ve been forced to haunt.
As the reader becomes more aware of the feelings and histories of Alice and Sandra, you’re also drawn in to how they function daily. There’s no escape from the home they’re attached to, and whatever naughty behaviors Caroline, Minna and Trenton are up to, they are subjected to it. This reality (if I may) is both curious and depressing, and as a reader I was drawn to how they negotiate their way into the lives of the Walkers, who have chosen not to “hear” Alice and Sandra for years.
At one point the ghosts refer to themselves as “the endless swells” who “carry the crests of his voice to her mouth”, and I couldn’t help but gasp at the thought of this all being real. Lauren Oliver’s debut novel for adults is a haunting tale, not because it has ghosts, but because the ghosts perhaps know how to live better than the humans they haunt.
Book Grade: B+