The Room and the Chair
  • The Room and the Chair
  • The Room and the Chair

The Room and the Chair

4.1 7
by Lorraine Adams

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"The story moves from a newsroom in the American capital to a cockpit over Afghanistan, from an Iranian cemetery to a military intelligence office in suburban Washington, as it explores a world of entwined conflicts and the way narratives about violence are told, twisted, hidden, or forgotten." Here are fine-drawn, empathetic portraits of the often overlooked

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"The story moves from a newsroom in the American capital to a cockpit over Afghanistan, from an Iranian cemetery to a military intelligence office in suburban Washington, as it explores a world of entwined conflicts and the way narratives about violence are told, twisted, hidden, or forgotten." Here are fine-drawn, empathetic portraits of the often overlooked actors of America's infinite global War: the ridiculed night editor of a prestigious newspaper, an overburdened nuclear engineer, a duty-bound female fighter pilot, a religiously impassioned novice reporter, a sergeant major thrust into the responsibilities of a secretive command. Their longings and loyalties take us, in the course of one shattering year, from a forested city park where child whores set up business to a Dubai hotel where a desperate man tries to disappear, from the night-time corridors of Walter Reed Hospital to the snow-thickened mountains of the Hindu Kush.

Editorial Reviews

Joshua Hammer
…filled with memorable set pieces and remarkable dialogue. Adams is particularly good at capturing the rivalries, power struggles and pecking order in the newsroom, a milieu she knows intimately…she also has a gift for imagining subcultures beyond her immediate ken. With perfect pitch, she evokes the shadow world of intelligence operatives, as well as the macho banter and bravado of fighter pilots.
—The New York Times
Louis Bayard
Adams lives up to her end of the bargain by spinning the action between geopolitical hot spots and by introducing, yes, a top-secret military program operating outside government boundaries. What becomes clearer, though, as the book goes along is that Adams isn't playing by all the hackneyed rules. Indeed, she is almost perverse in denying us the genre's received pleasures: sexual consummations, First Amendment triumphs, evil held at arm's length. No readers will rejoice at this story's conclusion, and no A-list actors will be clamoring to play any of its compromised people. On the page, though, they make for good company…
—The Washington Post
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.)
Library Journal
In her second novel (after Harbor), Adams, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Washington Post, jumps back and forth between a newsroom in Washington, DC, and the secretive world of covert military operations in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The result is a novel of war and news making in contemporary America that reads like a literary jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing, as if there were more going on in the author's mind that she is conveying to the reader. Of the many characters in this ambitious work, the one that stands out is a tough female fighter pilot whose story begins and ends the novel. VERDICT Too ambiguous and with too many loose ends to work as suspense, this well-researched literary novel offers an unflinching look at the dangerous world we live in.—Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI\
Kirkus Reviews
Sparky but overcrowded successor to the memorable Harbor (2004) can't decide if it's primarily a Washington novel or an espionage-oriented work refracting America's global reach. Capt. Mary Goodwin's F-16 is patrolling the skies over D.C. when a malfunction forces her to eject, landing in a tree. The 32-year-old pilot has been used as a guinea pig in a secret Pentagon project to prevent suicide attacks. Her crash was directed from the ground, but the project's overseer, Will Holmes, green-lighted it too soon. Interest in the crash is slight at the Washington Spectator (read Post), whose top brass are preoccupied with getting beaten to the scoop on another story by the paper's arch rival. But veteran night editor Stanley Belson smells a good story and has protegee Vera Hastings investigate. Mary and Vera are strong, unconventional women with fascinating pasts-their ferreting would make a fine novel in itself. But there is more, much more. The Spectator newsroom hums with politicking and scuttlebutt, while in the background looms star editor/author Don Grady (stand-in for Bob Woodward), symbol of insider arrogance in a novel that affirms humility as the ultimate virtue. Oddly, considering that Adams is a former Post reporter, the newspaper material-particularly the excessive amount of it devoted to Grady and his wife, alcoholic columnist Mabel Cannon-is less alive than the chapters that take place overseas. Two sections set in Iran show Hoseyn, a defecting nuclear scientist and one of Holmes' assets, faking his suicide and getting whisked away to Dubai. In another long passage, a bombing run executed by Mary and her devoted wingman in Afghanistan results in civilian deaths. Throughout theseportions, the action is riveting, the angles it's viewed from are different, and ironies salt the narrative; only the burned-out Holmes is a cliche of espionage fiction. Adams remains an enormously stimulating writer; greater artistic discipline could put her over the top.
From the Publisher
“Adams is a singular and important American writer. The Room and the Chair is remarkable for its ambitions and its achievements. . . . One of the triumphs of this book is that it’s a war novel that’s mostly about women. Though often unwitting tools and even more often thwarted, they are the fulcrum of the book, lifting what might otherwise be a dazzling thriller into the realm of literature.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Wonderful. . . . One of the most thrilling literary novels I’ve read in years. . . . Lorraine Adams seems to have it all—a journalist’s sharp eye, a poet’s ear, a cynic’s wisdom and a story-teller’s flourish. . . . . A tough, fast and beautiful read.”
—Colum McCann, National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin

“Spellbinding. . . . Fiercely intelligent. . . . A stunning portrayal of our uneasy days. . . . Sinuous and intricately plotted. . . . A breed apart: a novel that combines the meticulous reportage of Bernstein and Woodward’s All the President’s Men with the spellbinding poetry and creepy political intrigue of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.”
Chicago Tribune
“Engaging. . . . A Syriana-type yarn that tracks a dozen linked characters and shifts from the United States to the Islamic world and back again. . . . A wild and often fascinating ride.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Adams is so smart about how official Washington works and, like Don DeLillo in Underworld, she is fascinated by how information conceals the world from us.”
The Washington Post

“Intellectually challenging and artfully written, bursting with arresting imagery and cultural detail, and buzzing with the inner lives of its many characters. Ambitious in its intent as well as narrative structure.”
The Boston Globe
“An ejection-seat view of the war on terror in the media age. . . . Adams’s page-turner maneuvers between cockpit and newsroom, the Potomac and the Panjshir Valley.”
“Masterly. . . . Forceful. . . . The West’s post-9/11 preference for information-boggle over truth-telling gets a blunt reckoning in The Room and the Chair . . . [It] mercilessly critiques our addiction to narratives of Western exceptionalism even as it compels us to turn its pages.”
“Ambitious. . . . Cinematic. . . . [Offers] profound insights into how newspapers actually operate and stretches of dialogue that are as spare and pitch-perfect as anything written by Hemingway or Waugh.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Penetrating. . . . Provocative. . . . Adams’s The Room and the Chair is suspenseful and transporting—fine, many good novels are—but it is also that rarer thing: part of the conversation about our seemingly endless War on Terror. . . . Adams is a limber and inventive stylist, capable of great music and rhythm. . . . Exceptional.”
The Daily Beast
“Poetic. . . . Innovative. . . . In the last few lines of the book, Adams upends the expectations she has so carefully nurtured throughout, providing a creepy and ambiguous denouement that concerns the fate of our heroine, to be sure, but also turns on the even more complicated question of a world’s meaning.”
Harper’s Magazine
“What you see in [this] spy story is that same old, grand theme that Faulkner talked about: the human heart in conflict with itself.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR’s “All Things Considered”
“Adams writes with precision and empathy of lives marginalized or discounted by the ambitions of superiors, by institutional imperatives and global ideologies. She understands the tragic scale of this vast struggle, and that every day, we are, all of us—from Washington to Bagram to Guantanamo—more vulnerable and less valuable, and closer to being counted as casualties of one kind or another. This book tallies that cost and does so in utterly human terms.”
—David Simon, creator and writer of The Wire
“A thriller with brains. . . . Reads like Top Gun meets All the President’s Men.
More Magazine
“Precise, lyrical. . . . An inside view of both the U. S. intelligence community and the newsroom floor, allowing Adams to explore how reality is created, warped, and disguised at the whims of those in power. . . . Vivid.”

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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The Room and the Chair

By Lorraine Adams


Copyright © 2010 Lorraine Adams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307272416


She heard the air. It sounded like her Mustang on the Interstate. She’d push its tat engine hard for the on-ramp. Dash would vibrate. She’d check mirrors. Trucks were there, scaring her sideways to the shoulder. She’d strain up to speed in the slow lane, flip the blinker to join the faster ones, relax into the drive, and only then would she realize the radio was a ruffle of lost words because the windshield was whistling on high. Air that loud was normal on the ground. Here in the cockpit, it was a sign.

Solar bands, raw dawn beauty, were hours away. Clouds blocked stars. Moon was gone. As for her visor, its night vision just fine on the ground, it’d frizzed out. Green light had gloomed to black. This night, Mary had no horizon.

She checked the head-up display. It said she was at thirty-five thousand feet with her nose tilted two degrees down. So what was the noise?

She toggled up attitude detection. She was pointed to ground at seven hundred miles per hour.

They couldn’t both be right. She moved the stick.

Head-up stayed; attitude changed. She was an arrow straight for earth at the speed reserved for sound.

Her forgetting hands went to the grips to eject.

Some checklist came in time to save her. Gloves: she took them off. Helmet.Second was the helmet. Wait. Should she take her helmet off? She strained. Helmet was on, wasn’t it? No. Hadn’t somebody got a face sheered because the helmet was on? Off, would something she’d forgotten to batten blind her? Faceless or blind. Faceless or blind? Blind. Helmet stayed. She pulled out the oxygen, held on to her breath. Store it, store it. Into the compartment under the seat, she shoved and locked tubes. She released the survival gear in the seat kit. That would have broken her back.

She could not find the four-line release for the chute. Fingers and palms were mumbling all over the surfaces near where the release should have been. It was here. It has been here. Here. Here. She was at twenty-five thousand feet. Belts were flapping all over her chest. She hooked. Another she pulled off, couldn’t, and tied it down instead. She tightened the Koch fittings.

If she couldn’t get the four-line to deploy she would never make it. No, sometimes you make it. The odds were just bad. You could make it. Flailing, that was the thing that could kill you.

She pulled down on the grips.

The windblast threw the helmet from her head. Her earplugs disintegrated and flew like buckshot out a shotgun. Two pens in her pocket became stilettos that scored her chin. Her wallet fired through the bottom of her G-suit, along with a water bottle that busted out of a zippered pocket—missiles both. The laces on her boots plastered into the leather; one of them got through to her ankle, making an arabesque wound. Her watch sank into her wrist until the wind whipped it, and her skin, away and into the atmosphere.

One leg was twisting out of its socket in her right hip. Tendons snapped, one, two; another held. She could not feel any of it. In minutes she saw the city below, old houses in rows, the bowed Potomac, memorial stairs lit white beside it.

There was a crash. The night editor saw it at the top of his screen. Before he could open that story, another story arrived.

The first story said inhabitants of the Watergate heard something in the Potomac like the sound of a ship running aground. The second story said a bus smashed a truck in Potomac, the Maryland suburb. An explosion heard for miles wracked this affluent enclave of the nation’s capital just after midnight. Stanley remembered how he had edited a story the night before last, removed enclave. Someone else had excised it from his copy when he was just starting, the youngest reporter of all. Back then he thought the word couldn’t be used because it sounded like “clavicle,” or collarbone, a long bone curved like the italic letter f. Some editors let enclave stand. He’d built a vocabulary without such chiffons. It was a language of straight timber.

It hadn’t made him a newsman. With more than four decades behind him, he was instead a repository, the memory of the newspaper that had judged him wanting. He knew on which Washington street one murder unfolded and another almost did, which lobbyist’s first partner was someone else’s third, how the vote on appropriations changed something in conference when someone was Speaker. He had accumulated, first on spiral-bound paper, then in steel-case Rolodexes, and later on peach index cards in oak recipe boxes, a way of finding who to ask and what had happened and where they’d been and when they’d mattered. The city-states and principalities he’d chronicled knew nothing of him, but his enlarged understanding had made him their defender. Sometimes, he felt like moat and parapet. The attackers were hyperactive reporters, seasoned editors with tin-cup recollections, the paper itself—an organism sensitive to status, especially its own, but deaf to smaller bells.

The final edition had just closed. The last papers were furling out of warehouses many highways from downtown, where he and the copy chief, the last two working, sat tilted to terminals. From his desk his colleague was distant, featureless across a shaken board of careless desks. The air conditioning, a constant in September Washington, was the one sound. Stanley wore a suit vest over a Mexican shirt. His hair was gray tufts—a sun-scuffed baseball cap was on his head.

Stanley felt as if he sat by the sea. His computer screen, where the newswires sent their stories and bulletins and advisories, was his estuary. He spent his nights judging movement on this inlet. He had become, he thought, an honest estimator of depths. To be sure, there were reporters, the best of them fearless divers; he had to admit even the most middling of them reached an underwater he only imagined. But Stanley liked to think he knew more than they. He had learned to see how the actual of the world sometimes became known, and how, most often, disappeared from told life.

He felt those losses, some he even mourned. He relished that the night editor was one of the countable few who decided what was important enough to discuss publicly. Granted, he signified only in those hours after the last edition closed and before the newsroom—the Room—came to its senses, sometime after ten in the morning. Things at night appeared different in morning; night editors were constantly corrected, and it all rushed into the infinite light stream of amending and shading that continued day-in and day-out to give shape to what the outside world called factual. His contribution was not even a fleck of light in the sun blast of that constant making and unmaking of what might be true.

He looked at his screen again. He Googled to see if blogs had it. Nothing came up but pilot video games. He switched back. Now the wire was saying there was a helicopter accident near the Watergate. A noise like a ship in a river had become a bus in a suburb, an explosion in an enclave, and now a helicopter in the Potomac. This time, “aboard were government employees.” He sent the copy chief a message—See the wire on Watergate crash? She messaged—???? Then added—No bodies. As if answering her thought, Stanley saw the wire had sent another take—“Pilot presumed dead.”

She landed in a tree. From it, Mary could see her Viper—now a fire in the river. In the Washington thrillers she had read so many of as a teenager, she would be a saucy woman. And she would not be in a tree. She would have landed in the water, clung to an outcropping of rocks after being battered by the rapids, and somehow managed to get her mirror, the one in the survival gear she had, in truth, jettisoned, and, flicking its light to the sky, been rescued by a sailor. She’d have been piloting a secret mission, but ultimately, because of dirty politicians, nosy reporters, and heart-of-gold detectives, the reader would see she was not what she seemed.

The Coast Guard was a few minutes away. There were automatic relays that brought them when an F-16 went down. She felt her face—slashed but not too deep to fix. Leg felt numb. She looked down. Her heel was where her toes should be.

For as long as she could remember, the only thing she knew was to do what frightened her the most. She was not aggressive, not technically proficient, not physically self-possessed. So she ran to the military, to the men who didn’t want her there, to the women who were nothing like her, to trials that strafed her nature. She wanted to grow out of herself. She wanted to take the coat of appearances given her by birth and burn it away by will. She had a picture of herself in her mind. All that was left of the cloth shawl of circumstance was smoke. She was a naked figure in its haze, coming out of the soft focus to let the storm come hard as it may.

The walls glowed raspberry, the woodwork gleamed cream. At the base of the broad stone mantel was a collection of frayed bellows. Nearby was a Japanese screen hand-painted with rocks and trees. There were easy chairs in celery with a brushed-silk sheen. On the rumpled linen sofa were pillows made from canary damask, a salvaged Colonial quilt, and, needlepointed on the largest pillow, in a russet explosion, a cascade of begonias. One lamp was a royally yellow Chinese jar touched with jade, on top of which sat a pleated ivory shade. For fun, there was a leopard-print ottoman finished with heavy silk-twisted fringe, some strands of which were a little too long, on purpose, to create a sumptuous sensation as they draped on an antique rug the color of dried bamboo.

The dinner party of Mabel Cannon and Don Grady had gotten as far as the first drink. The guests were people known to be known. They presumed they were on the written-about-but-not-actual A-list. It was not called the Social Register. In conversation, if spoken about at all, its peripheral aspirants thought it was called “the circuit.” These guests were lavishly parodied. Unknown to their diagnosticians, they were also people who knew they were satirized. It felt fine to them. Mockery was the living sign of envy.

Mabel had come to see that her husband was almost the last of a time past. No one else was in his rank. He had promoted his home as the place most important conversations occurred, more than in any official location. One guest, whose wife was out of town, had been attending dinner parties here since he was a somewhat young man. Yet he, a historian, had come to think of Mabel Cannon and Don Grady, who’d been so reliantly welcoming to him over the years, as not unlike the European aristocracy before the First World War. It was all crumbling around them. It would never be as it was. It had to end, it would end, and no one believed it ever could end.

But people—having faith in what they had read of power, or had seen of it onscreen, or, most often, believed through the sanction of asides describing it—still came. They averted their eyes and drank up, spoke of things that reinforced what was supposed, wore smiles, stayed late.

The conversation this night was when one war would end and another begin. Don Grady, working on a national-security book, could not speak of events as they unfolded, but only when they were completed. Interest in any event was highest when it was unknown but presumed to be knowable. That was one of the privileges of dining at Mabel Cannon and Don Grady’s: you might be able to divine, through observation of Don’s reaction to a guest’s proffered scenario, what was going on—in that worn expression—behind the scenes. Someone could then say, I was at Grady’s, and when someone said war was coming next week, Grady winced. If war came next week, this moment would be remembered and recounted, proof of Grady’s unimpeachable access to power’s highest balconies. If war did not come next week, the wince would be interpreted as his tut-tutting at the wrong many who could only guess, and badly, the future. As for Don, he was constantly bewildered and had made a profitable art out of masking his confusion. His books were best-selling. He felt despicably lucky. He acted like a bishop.


Excerpted from The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams Copyright © 2010 by Lorraine Adams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Lorraine Adams is a novelist, critic, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. Her novel Harbor won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, was a finalist for the Orange and Guardian First Book prizes, and was selected as a New York Times Best Book, as a Washington Post Notable Book, and as Entertainment Weekly’s Best Novel of the Year. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum and was a staff writer at The Washington Post for eleven years. She lives in New York City.

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Room and the Chair 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
USAF Captain Mary Goodwin flies her F-16 over the Washington DC area protecting the friendly skies. However, her jet suddenly has engine trouble and she is forced to eject from the cockpit. Although she cannot prove it, she feels something odd happened to her plane. Mary is almost immediately deployed to Afghanistan, which she finds odd with the rapidity the military sent her to theatre. Washington Spectator night editor Stanley Belson finds the incident over the Potomac also strange especially with how fast the Air Force got Mary out of DC. He has his top gun Vera Hastings investigate the incident. Unbeknownst to either woman, top secret intel chief Will Holmes knows what happened but insures damage control is spun taut as he allowed an anti-suicide test using an unwitting subject too soon. The key cast members are somewhat stereotyped to enhance the suspense, especially in the Middle East, and to strafe bomb the political-media complex in which the truth is irrelevant as only ratings (for the media and for the politicians) are out there. Ironically the State-side chapters pale next to the Middle East sections as the incidents overseas are harrowing and breathtaking with a wide range of reactions while inside the United States decadence and lying rule. Although too many threads are left dangling, fans will appreciate this deep look at a perilous complicated world in which medicated Americans are served tea. Harriet Klausner
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