The Escape Room

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JHSiess
Feb 03, 2024
8/10 stars
At the heart of the story The Escape Room is Sara Hall. In a compelling first-person narrative, Sara relates her experiences at Stanhope and Sons. She is hired shortly after completing her MBA summa cum laude, but not from an ivy league school. And that leaves her scrambling despite her grades, excellent references, and successful completion of an internship. But she survives the rigorous interview process and lands the job. During the new employee orientation, the firm's message is clear. Money is what counts. And soon Sara is making a lot of money, but without having a life.

Sara's narrative alternatives with a third-person moment-by-moment description of what transpires in the elevator. Vincent is the manipulative team leader who initially attempts to reassure his three subordinate employees that the exercise will last only one hour, at the end of which they will all be released whether they have solved the riddles presented to them or not. An hour elapses during which hot air blasts into the elevator in which a screen lights up with messages and clues. The door cannot be opened, there is no way to escape the influx of suffocatingly hot air, and the participants' cell phone batteries are being drained as they use the flashlight apps to illuminate their surroundings. One hour turns into many hours, as the clues become more troubling and their fear more pronounced.

Sam Bradley has served as Sara's mentor over lengthy, expensive lunches. He wanted to be a human rights lawyer, but has over time transformed into a cynic, sacrificing his ideals and values in the name of making money. He knows that he has become a slave to his demanding wife, Kim, as well as his own ego. And he is going to miss the flight to Antigua that Kim has made "a test of his commitment to their marriage." Sylvie is enmeshed in an affair with a married man who has made it clear that if she fails to meet him in Paris their relationship will be over. She is beautiful, stylish, and has learned to navigate a male-dominated profession by perpetually displaying an expression "a few degrees short of a resting bitch face." She is not a friend to other women. Jules is an alcoholic whose job performance has declined as a result of his drinking. All four of them are aware that the firm is considering layoffs due to recent failures to cement critical deals. They are all aware that they have "red targets on their backs" and, accordingly, not appearing when summoned for the escape room exercise was not an option.

As the hours drag on, revelations of secret machinations, betrayals, and resentments ratchet up the tension and potential for dire consequences in the elevator. The mystery at the heart of the characters' dilemma? Who has ordered them there and why? Are they going to be released? Or is the mastermind behind the deadly game determined to eliminate the players?

Sara is an empathetic character -- idealistic and committed to her career. Close to her parents, her desire to succeed is motivated not only by her own ego. Her father has been ill for many years and her earnings make it possible for her to ensure that his medical costs are covered, as well as care for her mother. Sara describes the friendship she develops with Lucy, a brilliant member of the team who is mentored and protected by Vincent. He tells Sara that she is "on the spectrum" and "awkward in social situations." But the two women develop a camaraderie as Sara comes to realize that Lucy is "the most sincere person in the entire team" which "said more about the team than about her." Goldin credibly and heartbreakingly demonstrates the evolution of their friendship and its profound impact upon several characters, primarily Sara.

The Escape Room is engrossing and clever. Aside from Sara and Lucy, Goldin's characters are despicable and morally bankrupt. She explains how some of them devolved to their current loathsome state, and challenges her readers to consider whether they can or should be redeemed -- if they survive. The story is replete with shocking revelations about the characters' behave that explain and inform their circumstances. It is a captivating mystery, but it is also a savvy exploration of the characters' relationships, alliances, and motivations that have delivered them to the challenge they must face together. The Escape Room is an unvarnished, unapologetic indictment of the misogyny and sexism that still permeate American workplaces, and a morality tale about greed, competitiveness, and an obsession with success . . . at any cost.

The pace of The Escape Room is unrelenting. The jaw-dropping conclusion may likely disappoint readers Goldin skillfully convinces to emotionally invest in her characters and their well-being, but it is undeniably inventive and, on some levels, deeply satisfying. There are many themes worthy of discussion which makes The Escape Room an excellent choice for book clubs. It has already been deemed one of the best books of 2019 for good reason, and bodes well for readers anxious to read more from Goldin, a talented and provocative new voice in fiction.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.
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