Forty is God’s number for testing the human spirit. It’s the limit of man’s endurance, beyond which you are supposed to learn something true. Oh, you know what I mean — Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain, Moses’ 40 days in the desert, Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation. Forty of anything is long enough to be a trial, but it’s man-size, too. In the Bible, 40 years make a span of one generation. Forty weeks make a baby.
Apparently the story goes that we all live our lives moving through forty rooms: my bedroom in the family home, my dorm room, the rooms of my first apartment, the rooms of my first house. This becomes the simple structure of Olga Grushin’s novel Forty Rooms.
There’s a lot to contemplate in this novel. The basic story is that of a young Russian girl who is in love with poetry yet moves to America, gets married, has children, lives in a big fancy house, and whose marriage gradually becomes tedious at best. Early in the novel it is suggested that
You can spend your days baking cookies for your offspring, or — as ever through the ages — you can become a madwoman, a nomad, a warrior, a saint. But if you do decide to follow the way of the few, you must remember this: Whenever you come to a fork in the road, always choose the harder path, otherwise the path of least resistance will be chosen for you.
I see this as the major conflict: is having a fulfilling life as a middle-class housewife and mother of five the “path of least resistance” or is it actually a successful life?
There are plenty of clues that suggest there have been numerous critical points in the life of Mrs. Caldwell where she could have rejected the middle-class life and rebelled against conformity .. maybe even become a poet. From a Feminist point-of-view, is this a conclusion that the accepted life of a married woman with children, the focus on small things, is a sign of success or is there more to life, especially to the life of an intelligent and curious woman?
Read this book and see what you think.