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The Room and the Chair Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 9, 2010


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272416
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,675,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: Lorraine Adams's second novel, The Room and the Chair, has the raw materials of the sort of political thriller that has a target superimposed over the Capitol on the cover: a fighter pilot downed over the Potomac as part of a deniable covert program and a nuclear spy trying to get out of Iran, while star journalists and rookie reporters try to connect the dots. But in Adams's hands, the materials stay raw: she scrapes away the outer skin of her characters to bare their complex and contradictory motivations. (Imagine Mary Gaitskill writing a novelization of Syriana.) Adams, a former Pulitzer-winning reporter at the Washington Post whose first novel was the mesmerizing Harbor, writes about her old newspaper (or one that looks a lot like it) with acid affection, and about the capital with high style: "Washington was as louche as any city; it just hid from itself until the heat set it free. Those who made the city's daily bread--accusation--slowed in high temperatures." Adams is an elliptical storyteller, and she doesn't supply some of the satisfactions you expect from such a plot, but the satisfactions she does provide--of character deeply understood, of consequences met or avoided--are intense, surprising, and rare. --Tom Nissley

A Q&A with Lorraine Adams

Question: How did your time as a newspaper reporter inspire The Room and the Chair?

Lorraine Adams: I mostly felt like the tenderfoot in a gang of the self-satisfied during my newspaper days. But I got cynical in one way. I saw over and over that the more important something is, the more difficult it is to ascertain and convince not just editors, but a certain Greek chorus of the thinking public, to want to know it. It was often amusing during the 1980s and 1990s, but entirely less so in the last ten years, a decade of warfare. As everyone knows, our wars now rarely take place on a battlefield, but in an international every-space formerly reserved for domesticity. We fight house-to-house, jet-to-house, on buses or trains, down a residential street where people are going about their hapless, hopeful existences. Everyone is something of a warrior and yet no one knows enough about why we fight or where we should fight.

Question: You’ve said that the story that Vera Hastings is writing is an example of the fact that sometimes the best stories never make it into print. Why? Did this ever happen to you when reporting?

Lorraine Adams: Editors think all the best stories get into print. Reporters think not enough of them do. It seems to me that the idea of what constitutes a good story is undergoing tremendous pressure and yet not changing very much for all that pressure. One of the reasons is that newspapers are run by a coterie of people who have the most noble intentions but never seem to get around to innovating. They remind me of Detroit automakers. They have yet to move outside the dozen or so types of stories that in their eyes constitute the "best" stories. Regular human beings not in the coterie recognize that the complicated and contrary world they live in cannot be shoehorned into these types of stories: "Top dog gets his comeuppance," "Little dog prevails against all odds," "Agency fails to connect dots," etc. In a culture where technological innovation proceeds at hyper-speed, breakthroughs in storytelling have been almost non-existent since the 1960s era of New Journalism.

Question: "The Room" is the newsroom, a place you know well from working at the Washington Post for over a decade. "The Chair" is within the military intelligence community. How did you gain so much knowledge about this intelligence community? And why did you link these two worlds--including in the very title of the novel--together?

Lorraine Adams: After my first novel was published in late 2004, I was still in touch with some of the suspected terrorists, and one convicted terrorist, who I had met when researching that novel. As it happened, someone in the military intelligence community appeared one night at a friend’s dinner party. He was curious about some of the people I knew. I was curious about the work he and people like him were doing. I spent years getting to know him and his work and at a certain point he introduced me to someone who, prior to his retirement, had been in charge of special access operational intelligence activities (in common parlance, "black ops") outside the CIA’s purview.

As I said above, I’ve been obsessed with recent changes in warfare and journalism. I knew the newsroom. This man was a window into today’s strange new combat. It gave me a chance to show how two powerful classes in Washington--the writing class and the warrior class--create what we think of as reality. It helped me understand how that "reality" sifts down into the lives of a few individuals.

Question: The events that drive The Room and the Chair forward never actually happened--it is, after all, a novel. But you’ve said that you couldn’t write about this if it wasn’t within the parameters of the novel--or if you were still a reporter for a newspaper. Why? Is there real news in the book?

Lorraine Adams: This individual who opened up the military intelligence world to me never would have spoken to me if I had been a working journalist. Talking to a journalist was outside his experience and taboo for someone like him.

While all the events and characters in the book are fictitious, some of the information about the way military intelligence operates is based on what I learned in my research.. As I was learning about this world, I was surprised what I discovered and that many things were actual and I’d never read about them anywhere.

Question: In the novel, newspapers and other media outlets seem unable to get to--or disseminate--the truth, perhaps especially about military and intelligence stories. Why? What do you think about the way the traditional media covers the military?

Lorraine Adams: The intelligence community worldwide works hard to stay secret. Every so often great reporters like Dana Priest at the Washington Post manage to find out some of the secrets. The rest of it remains unknown. Whether that’s good or bad turns into pretty predictable polemics that as a novelist I’m much less drawn to than questions about how it affects our humanity, and how an individual in that unknown world goes about their daily life.

(Photo © Mary Noble Ours)


From Publishers Weekly

Ejecting from a plummeting jet high over the Potomac River is only one of fighter pilot Mary Goodwin's problems in this elaborately plotted war on terror page-turner from Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and novelist Adams (Harbor). A sense that something more than a simple malfunction downed her plane dogs Mary, but self-doubts springing from a dark past discourage her from digging any further and she soon ships out to Afghanistan. Stanley Belson, night editor of the Washington Spectator, has a similar hunch about the crash and he pushes his newsroom protégé to investigate. Operating in the shadows near the center is Will Holmes, the chair of a secret intelligence program. As the many subplots connect and evolve, something approaching a romance between Will and Mary sprouts in Afghanistan; Mary is hounded by tragic events; and Will's operation spins out of control. Though Adams's lean prose comes off as affected and her characters feel hollow, the dovetailing of Adams's cynical assessment of newsroom ethics and political maneuvering places this nicely among macroview novels of contemporary political intrigue. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

LORRAINE ADAMS was educated at Princeton and at Columbia University. She won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting and was a staff writer for the Washington Post for eleven years. She lives in New York City, and Harbor (Portobello, 2006) was her first novel.

Customer Reviews

2.1 out of 5 stars
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It does not capture the what it's like to read a novel written in staccato prose.
J. Avellanet
Beginning with what appears to be an intriguing premise, this book then plunges the reader into a maelstrom, introducing too many characters and improbable plot lines.
K. L. Cotugno
The character digressions are incessant, but they don't really lead us to understanding, or to care.
Dharma

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Dharma on February 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This new novel can't quite figure out what it wants to be. A roman a clef about the Washington Post, A spy thriller? A technospy novel? A war novel about women? A chronicle of sad people and their inability to love? Too many stories, most of them highly improbable, are set in motion in a slow, barely moving narrative, which winds it's way through incessant digressions, to a resolution without climax, or satisfaction.

Some examples: A military airplane crashes in Washington DC and is covered up by a secret spy outfit for 18 months? Not after 9/11.

A cub reporter finds out that the managing editor of the Post frequents pre-teen prostitutes, and doesn't tell? Not in this media world.

An Iranian scientist escapes Iran, and then goes back because he is being followed? Why?

The writing is overdone, elliptical, and without any real sparkle. The character digressions are incessant, but they don't really lead us to understanding, or to care. The plot moves so slowly that I had to keep going back to find out if I missed something. I didn't.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ronald J. Gardner on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
An interesting comment from a friend on Facebook sent me rushing to the bookstore. I'm a veteran of 32 years in the news business. This sounded like a fun read about how phony the news business can be and what puppets most reporters are these days. What a major, major disappointment. Adams' style, if you can call it a style, is to write in sentences that too often make no sense at all. I found myself having to read paragraphs two and three times in an effort to figure out what was being said. After struggling through a few dozen pages, I was tempted to trash the book. Instead, I decided to force myself to finish it just to see if I might be able to figure out how to interpret her cryptic writing. I never did. Even after reading the last several pages a few times, I still have no idea what was happening at the end of this bizarre attempt at storytelling. If you're thinking of buying this thing, don't. Contact me and I'll give you my copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William Polm VINE VOICE on March 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author has, I feel, some important things to say. Sadly, in this medium of the novel, she didn't say them with clarity and effectiveness. She has material for a good plot that could captivate her readers. But her prose gets in the way, markedly.

This seems to want to be an experimental novel. The prose reminds me of a hyperactive adolescent jumbling incongruent details and cryptic allusions into her sentences--to sound, I think, perhaps, like a wanna-be Virginia Woolf. In short, this novel is badly overwritten--almost to the point of being frequently incomprehensible.

Some of the other reviewers seem, to me, bedazzled by the writer's Pulitzer Prize credentials and heap praise on this work. I'm sorry, but my response is: you've got to be kidding. Don't get me wrong, I think the lady has some interesting ideas and some ability with words. But if I could, I would sign her up for one to three years concentrated training in fiction writing. She likely deserved that Pulitzer and is a good investigative reporter; but as a writer of fiction, she needs guidance. She needs knowledge of the craft.

The author constantly throws the reader into situations without real grounding as to what's happening, who it's happening to, and where it's happening. The author will introduce several characters often providing little more than their names (except for a lot of internal monologues), and as a result they become confusing. The point of view is frequently "floating," undefined or vague. She seems to have bought wholesale the contemporary poor notion that it's best to keep the reader in the dark most of the time. So the "story" tumbles from one barely understood scene to another.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Duane Sparks VINE VOICE on May 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first 2 pages of the book had me hooked. An extremely exciting start even though it took me a couple of times through those pages to be sure what was happening.

After those first 2 pages, I was lost. Continued introduction of new characters who did nothing, leaving parts of the story behind only to catch up to it later, this author has talent but uses it wastefully.

I read this book without ever getting an idea of what was going on. Not that individual scenes were difficult to understand because the writer is wonderfully talented, but nothing ever tied the parts together. Chapter after chapter I went back and reread to try to gather my mind around the story. I did that because Lorraine Adams has a fascinating way of expressing herself so I wanted to like this work.

I'm sorry, I just couldn't find a way to gain any reading pleasure. My recommendation would be to skip this one and wait for L. Adams to gain some experience in how to tell a story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia H. Parker on May 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are times in my life (usually when working with math) when I get confused and have to hold on to the edge of the table to know which side is up. I held on to the edge of the table a lot while reading this book. It was as if Ms. Adams had several ideas for a story but wasn't sure which one to use - so she used them all.

We start with a pilot (a woman named Mary with all the media attention that a woman almost losing her life would bring) crashing into the Potomac at Washington on a dark and stormy night. All right it wasn't stormy, but it was supposed to be dark (Is that what Black Ops really means). I have been to DC many times as I have relatives there. I don't think I have ever seen it so dark that a fighter plane crashing into the river near the Lincoln Memorial wouldn't be noticed. So, the pilot is supposed to not understand how her instruments went haywire so she crashed. While she is in the hospital, a group of spooks in black clothes, clean up the site, including uprooting the tree which broke our pilot's fall and flattening the site without anyone noticing it. May I point out that something like a bazillion joggers go through this area along the Potomac every day, and this is a City where no one, even under oath, seems to be able to keep a secret. After Mary is released from the hospital, she and her wing man are shuffled off to Bagram where the Wing Man and two other members of the staff on the Base fall over a cliff, one killed; two injured. Our "girl" is saved because, as a girl, she walks slower. So, everyone gets shipped back to Washington.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have been introduced to a man (CIA?) who had the pilot's instruments messed up to test a secret weapon.
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