The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits Genre: Speculative Fiction
What if you had a chance to fix the worst mistake of your life…but only made things worse? The Rage Room dives into dystopia with an extraordinary tale about choices and second chances. Sharps Barkley jumps back in time and finds that changing the future isn’t as easy as he thought.
Set in 2055, our plastic world is run by robots, fueled by consumerism, twisted religion and virtual data. Satellites control the weather, food is grown in laboratories. Arts and culture are distant memories. Beneath the sunny skies and behind the garbage-free suburban McMansions live deeply disturbed, materialistic families. Prescribed visits to rage rooms lance desperate anger, boredom and discontent but the band-aid fix hides disturbing governmental motives.
An intense and provocative exploration of societal coded messages, The Rage Room is an action-packed story of unravelling and alternate realities, of disturbing and searching re-runs. Can the army of feminist hackers restore Mother Nature?
Can love triumph over fear? And, ultimately, can the children be saved?
Dark, fun, weird, imaginative, The Rage Room is a dystopic ride perfect for the anxieties and conditions of the present day. The paranoia of Sharps Barkley seeps into you, propelling this thriller that will keep you guessing to the very end.
– David Albertyn, author of Undercard.
Leave it to the wild imagination of Lisa de Nikolits to bring us the dystopian future of The Rage Room, an extraordinarily inventive speculative fiction thriller with a decidedly feminist bent. Fast-paced, funny, bold, and completely engrossing, The Rage Room is an allegory, a cautionary tale, and a rollicking good read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.
– Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together and Every Little Piece of Me.
In turns unsettling and very funny, The Rage Room is a berserk science-fiction satire of toxic masculinity, narrated by your guide, Sharps, the neurotic, rage-filled Jason Bateman of the future. There are lines and descriptions that will stop you dead in your tracks and make you take notes.
– Evan Munday, The Dead Kid Detective Agency series
In her latest captivating book, de Nikolits proffers not only a roller coaster of entertainment, but also, sharp political commentary in complicated times. The Rage Room is an intricately woven dystopian world, rich in strong female characters who easily whisk readers to a world of futuristic follies. Move over George Orwell – de Nikolits shows us how the future can be scary, exciting, and above all, female.
– Kelly S. Thompson, National Bestseller author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces.
Lisa de Nikolits is the internationally award-winning author of ten novels (all Inanna Publications). No Fury Like That was published in Italian in 2019 by Edizione Le Assassine as Una furia dell’altro mondo. Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various anthologies and journals internationally. She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, the Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, The Australian Crime Writers, The Short Fiction Mystery Association and the International Thriller Writers. Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits came to Canada in 2000. She lives and writes in Toronto.
What inspired you to write The Rage Room?
A friend at work mentioned that her best friend’s marriage had ended and, in order to ‘celebrate’ the occasion, they organized a girl’s night out to a rage room. I was immediately obsessed. “What’s a rage room?” I asked and before the sentence was even said out loud, I knew I had to write a book with a rage room as its central focus.
I was also fascinated by three social issues at the time: our obsession with our virtual online lives, the destruction of the planet and its natural resources and, most importantly, the level of anger in people’s lives. Anger, albeit in the form of ennui, depression or rage. And I believed that the last, anger, is a direct consequence of the first two points; the lack of boundaries between our online and real lives and the rate at which we are losing touch with nature, as nature, in direct relation to our increasingly technologically and AI controlled lives (see Siri or Alexa), suffers and dies. We feel disembodied from nature and in a way, the destruction doesn’t feel real because instead of actually living natural lives, we live on our phones and computers. We are numbed and yet we cannot help but realize that we are suffocating as the digital stranglehold squeezes the life breathe from us.
How did all of that translate into a feminist dystopian thriller?
Easily and not easily! Sharps Barkley came to me fairly strongly but, in his first incarnation, I saw him as a sociopath or a psychopath but after Inanna’s initial feedback on the book, I took him back to the drawingboard. He’s not an evil man but a weak man, flailing and lost and I felt more compassion for him than in the initial book.
All along, Sharps had one goal, to be a perfect man, to be the perfect husband, father, best friend, son and employee. But he fails so drastically that that he ricochets from one disaster to another, with increasingly catastrophic results.
Interestingly, it was during the rewrite of the book that I realized that Sharps was in fact the perfect man. The perfect man, the perfect specimen of manhood is flawed, flailing, angry, weak and corruptible. He doesn’t acknowledge his thoughts, feelings, actions or emotions in the same way as a woman would. He is carried away along the current of his life, allowing himself to be sucked in by the undertow of what he believes is expected of him, instead of standing up and taking accountability for his life.
He is utterly selfish in a way that he cannot see and would never admit. It may sound as if I have no regard for Sharps whatsoever but that’s not true. He is a good father and he longs for the love of his own father. He knows he can never live up to his mother’s expectations as much as he’d like to. He feels like a fraud at work and he suffered from depression in his teenage years. And he does fall in love in The Rage Room but he falls in love with a figment of his imagination.
The Rage Room doesn’t deify women over men; there are extremely flawed women in this book, namely his wife, Celeste and Minnie, Trump’s successor. So the book is not “all women are all powerful and wise and all men are weak and flawed”, it’s a look at humankind, at love, at our lives in an increasingly digital age.
I do love the feminist army and if they were real, I’d be a recruit! I loved how Mother evolved in the book as well as Ava and I look forward to writing a sequel. Yes, a sequel because while the multi-layered plot is resolved, there is room for a whole additional story but no spoilers!
What can we expect from you in the future? I have a book scheduled for 2022 with Inanna Publications (they’ve published all of my books). The book was originally intended to be published next year but Covid-19 bumped a lot of books forward. The book,Mad Dog and The Sea Dragon, is a noir fifties-inspired thriller and I’m good with it moving forward because it will give me time to work it harder. I’ve published a book a year since 2010 and given that I have a really demanding day job as a magazine art director, it’s been a tremendous workload. So to be given a bit more time is a gift and I plan to use it wisely. I also love contributing to anthologies and you never know what call for submissions will have my name on it!
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
I wrote a short story over a decade ago, The Perfect Man, in which a Sharps Barkley-like character killed his family on Christmas Eve because he ached for perfection and he wanted to freeze-frame the moment forever. So Sharps (and the ideal marriage and family) has been an idea I have been working on for a long time and I’ve written various short pieces in which some of the other characters emerged: Celeste and Sharps, Mother and Daddy.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved creating the dystopian world. The cars, the technology, the colours, the state of nature, what the work place looked like. Paint that smells like lavender, roses or freshly-cut lawns, plastic being recycled to grow lab food, the Blowflies, the armies, the tech. I loved writing the world recalibration scenes. I also found some of the scenes quite funny and I loved coming up with names for the programs and fake animals and robots.
I also accessed a bunch of unresolved and unfinished dystopian short stories and flash fiction pieces that I’ve written over the years; character sketches, isolated scenes, dreams and hallucinations in waking moments that need to be written down before they vanish. This story has been two years in the cultivation, with an almost obsessive focus.
Tell us about your main characters - what makes them tick?
Sharps Barkley is the protagonist and I picture him as Jason Bateman. Sharps is a weak man, flailing. He has a single goal in mind: to be the perfect family man, the perfect father to Baxter and Sophie, husband to Celeste.
Already overwhelmed by work pressures, the stress of having an alcoholic wife and the self-imposed dictates of perfection, Sharps is accused of defrauding his employer out of thousands of dollars.
In a domino series of events, Sharps kills his boss, goes home and shoots his family as they are surrounded by a picture-perfect glittery decorations of a Hallmark Christmas.
On the run, he learns about a time travel device. He wants to go back and undo the killing. He meets up with the feminist army, believing them to be high tech bio-hacker scientists with access to artificial intelligence.
In a novel about choice and second chances, Sharps jumps back in time, only to learn that changing the future isn’t as easy as he thought. He fails, on his first jump, to change anything, because he went too far back and his family will still die in the future.
He jumps again, this time on the day he killed his family. The day unfolds as it did on the fateful day he killed his family but this time, he doesn’t kill his family – instead, his best friend and work partner does, in a change initiated by a conversation Sharps had with him when he jumped the first time.
The time travel takes a toll on Sharps’s body and mind and in the subsequent jumps, there are unforeseen changes due to his visits and the variables change the circumstances to which he returns.
Sharps falls in love with the leader of the Eden Collective, the feminist army who are determined to save the Earth, remove all artificial intelligence and let the Earth restore itself, at the expense of mankind, needs must be.
The Eden Collective uses data gathered from the rage rooms to analyze and predict the potential and actions needed for the Earth to reset and they need to prove that time travel is an effective tool - if Sharps can go back and save his children, then there is hope for the future. Sharps is the 49th experiment and his success is pivotal – can love prevail over anger?
Then there are other characters: Celeste (Sharps’s wife) who I see as Melissa McCarthy only she’s Marilyn Monroe blonde and she’s a real piece of work! She’s utterly spoiled, vacuous and selfish. Ava (see Noomi Rapace) is a vicious terrier, out for Sharps’ blood but she has good reason to hate the establishment and she grows into one of my favourite characters, feisty and determined with a moral compass second to none. She falls in love with Jazza, Sharps’ best friend, a giant guy that most people find offputting due to his Neanderthal appearance and predilection to wear women’s underwear. I see Mother as Jessica Lange or Helen Mirren and she’s an interesting cat, complex and strong. She’s far from a perfect mother, by her own admission and yet she loves Sharp’s completely. In fact, she does what she does in order to save him from himself. Daddy (Celeste’s father and a key player) models himself on Prince Charles and is quite hilarious. I must admit I love all these guys!
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