The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “The Room and the Chair”

Lorraine Adams is an old friend of mine. She and I worked a few feet away from each other in the Washington Post newsroom (the model for “the room” in the title of her book), and I loved listening to her beat her sources into submission. Over the last few years I have watched Lorraine, with awe and great admiration, turn herself into a first-class novelist, in a way very few journalists manage to pull off.

Lorraine has done this not by leaving her reporting behind, but by using it to layer her novels with rich detail and psychological depth. Harbor , her 2004 novel about terrorism suspects, did not so much humanize them as turn them inside out in a way that made them both more accessible and more mysterious. The Room and the Chair begins, similarly, with a dislocation. Air Force pilot Mary Goodwin has crashed, and we don’t know why or what it’s about. The mystery unfolds the same way it might in an investigative project. A group of reporters piece together different pieces of the puzzle, and we are led around a world still coming to terms with the war on terror. But instead of ending with the predictable gotcha, as it would in a newspaper, we get ever deeper layers of self-knowledge and confusion.