Dramatic irony and the core of adult lament.

by Todd Foley

The weather outside is beautiful, but I haven’t been able to get off the couch. That’s because yesterday I finally bought a copy of Room by Emma Donoghue, a book I talked about buying for months. I’m only two chapters in – granted the 400-page novel is broken up into five equal-length chapters – and it’s without a doubt one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read.

Here’s a brief synopsis [from the back of the book]: “To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. But to Ma, Room is the prison where she’s been kept since she was nineteen – for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But these walls can’t hold them forever.”

Long story short, Room is a story about a child was born to a mother held captive, and the child believes that he is living a happy, normal life. His mother has created a reality in which this is plausible.

This novel is a classic example of dramatic irony, where the reader understands the situation more thoroughly than the character. Look at the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. Or the part of any horror movie where you want to shout “Don’t go up the stairs!”

Any story about kidnapping or abduction or rape makes my stomach turn. With Room, though, the story is told through Jack’s perspective – and he sees nothing wrong with the situation. It’s all he’s ever known. It’s his normal. His world is one of beauty, excitement and wonder. Yet as I’m hearing his account, I feel my insides turn solid. I want to grab Jack by the hand and tell him how horrific his circumstances are and about the wonderful world that’s outside.

All I could do was read.

But even with the ugliness of this story, I’m amazed at Jack’s perception of his surroundings. How captivated he is by the simple things. How strongly devoted he is to his mother and their life together.

Then my heart breaks, because I’m positive that as I read more, I’ll have to witness Jack’s world come crumbling down upon learning the truth – that his truth has been anything but true. I want to be there to give him a hug when this happens, to offer some comfort as everything he knows is torn away.

“With childhood comes a brief grace period of ignorant bliss – when you’re not aware of the pain around you. That is the most special, truly unique time. It is the core of adult lament.”
― Barry Privett

These are the stories that impact me.  Stories that linger long after the final sentence. Stories that make me ache. Stories that help me to better understand the broken world I live in. Stories that make me jealous of Jack’s ignorance. Stories that give me hope that what is broken will one day be restored.

What stories resonate with you? Why?