Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tom Shone writes about 12 steps to self awareness.

I have heard of Tom Shone, but this is the first novel of his I have read. I enjoyed it.

In the Rooms

In the Rooms (352 pages, Thomas Dunn, $24.99) is set in New York. Patrick Miller, a literary agent, has moved there from London and he is having some trouble getting his career off the ground.

One desultory lunchtime, he gets a big break, he thinks, when he sees the reclusive writer Douglas Kelsey walking through Washington Square. He thinks nothing of following the writer, and when he turns into a vaguely labeled academic building, Patrick tries to think of some way to introduce himself.

It does not take Patrick too long to realize that he has stumbled into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. If the structure of such a meeting wouldn’t be enough to tip Patrick off, he is so aggressively welcomed, or so it seems to him, that he knows right away exactly where he is. But because he sees Kelsey slumped in the corner, and because the woman who is welcoming him is rather attractive, he makes everyone believe that he knows where he is and he wants to be there.

This creates certain problems for Patrick, who doesn’t think of himself as an alcoholic, not least of all because he finds himself attracted not only to Lola, the woman who greeted him, but to some of her friends and others at the meeting. He knows enough about alcoholics to know that they do not appreciate looky-loos; but even as he keeps persuading himself that he doesn’t need a twelve step program, he starts demonstrating that his relation to alcohol is anything but healthy.

As Patrick screws up his life in this way, he does manage to meet up with Kelsey, and he even, against all odds, manages to secure a deal for the much anticipated third novel. Kelsey makes certain demands on Patrick, and he is quick to agree to them; but because of the degree of subterfuge in his life, and because he cannot be honest even with himself, he loses control of some of those details, and Kelsey gets dragged into a bidding war that he had hoped to avoid.

Almost like clockwork then, Kelsey falls off the wagon, just about at the time that Patrick starts to realize that he belongs in AA himself. This is not before he has alienated his friends and come close to losing his job. What saves him, as it saves the alcoholics who are able to be saved, is that he hits bottom. That isn’t pretty, but it gives him a sense of how very much worse things could be.

Shone writes compellingly about drunkenness and about the struggle to escape it. In addition to Patrick, we see others who have been helped by the hokey program that AA offers. Many of them don’t even know why Alcoholics Anonymous works for them, they just know that it does.

Tom Shone

Get a copy of In The Rooms at Powell's, Vroman's or Amazon.

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