The Sorting Room: A Novel
By Michael Rose
In Prohibition-era New York City, Eunice Ritter, an indomitable ten-year-old girl, finds work in a sweat shop―an industrial laundry―after impairing her older brother with a blow to the head in a sibling tussle. When the diminutive girl first enters the sorting room, she encounters a giant: Gussie, the largest human being she has ever seen.
Gussie, a powerful, hard-working woman, soon becomes Eunice’s mentor and sole friend as she finds herself entrapped in the laundry’s sorting room by the Great Depression, sentenced to bring her low wages home to her alcoholic parents as penance for her childhood mistake. Then, on her sixteenth birthday, Eunice becomes pregnant and her drunken father demands that the culprit marry his daughter, trapping her anew―this time in a loveless marriage, along with a child she never wanted. Within a couple of years, Eunice makes a grave error and settles into a lonely life of drudgery that she views as her own doing. She spends decades in virtual solitude before her secret history is revealed to those from whom she has withheld her love.
An epic family saga, The Sorting Room is a captivating tale of a woman’s struggle and perseverance in faint hopes of reconciliation, if not redemption.
This discussion guide and recommended reading was shared and sponsored in partnership with Michael Rose.
Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.
Describe the relationship between Eunice and her legal husband. What constrains her options? What choices does she make concerning her marriage?
Does the story shed light on the social evolution in the US from the Great Depression to the sixties? What has changed in our society since the time period when the story ended? What has remained the same?
Who loves Eunice and why? Who does she love?
"Rose has composed an affecting and unpredictable story, unsentimental and unflinching." –– Kirkus Reviews
“A moving and evocative tale, sweeping in scope, and beautifully narrated. Its depiction of Depression-era New York City is vivid and haunting. The Sorting Room is a memorable and inspirational saga about the power of one woman’s indominable will, and its reverberations on the extended family she creates.” –– ROBERT STEVEN GOLDSTEIN, author of the novels Cat’s Whisker, Enemy Queen, and The Swami Deheftner